Illawarra Coal Rugby League finals continue
Two Illawarra Division props Rory O’Brien and Justin King are in doubt for their respective clubs Collegians and Wests going into the Illawarra Coal Cup major and minor finals in a smorgasbord of high quality rugby league at Collegians Sports Centre this weekend.
Collegians’ explosive front rower O’Brien has had surgery on a broken finger while the Devils’ power runner King remains under an injury cloud with a hand injury.
Collies will play Helensburgh in the major final on Sunday after Wests take on premiers Thirroul in the minor final on Saturday. The Dogs will also be without damaging second-rower Peni Botiki who has returned home to Fiji for family reasons.
On the positive side for Collies, football club secretary Bruce Prior said versatile forward Kane Skarrats will be back from injury and ready to go in Sunday’s match, the winner to advance straight to the grand final at WIN Stadium on Sunday, September 1, while the loser will play in the final at CSC on Sunday, August 26.
Both Collies and Helensburgh completed the regular season on top of the table with 22 points but the Dogs were declared minor premiers because of a superior for-and-against differential, which meant they were not called on the play in the first round of post-season finals footy last weekend.
After holding a 14-0 half-time lead in the qualifying final last Sunday and looking to be in control of proceedings, Helensburgh then had to come from behind to overcome a typically tenacious Thirroul 20-16 thanks to a late try to in-form Tigers fullback Jason Raper.
King is the only injury doubtful from Wests’ 30-16 win over Shellharbour in the elimination final at Ron Costello Oval last Saturday.
Wests coach Brad Reh revealed King sustained the injury early in the game against the Sharks but played through the remainder of the encounter which was 10-all at half-time.
“We will monitor Kingy’s progress through the week but we’re hopeful that he will play,” Reh said today (Wednesday). “He’s an integral part of our team. He helps us go forward.”
After being dusted by Collies 52-18 at Parrish Park in the last round of the regular season, Wests recovered superbly to down the Sharks with dominant second half performance. Reh said the Devils were going to finish in fifth place on the League ladder no matter what the result was against Collies and they knew which areas of their game they had to work on, such as completions, field position and discipline which came to the fore against the Sharks particularly in the second term.
Should King play, Wests expect to field an unchanged team against Thirroul.
“We’ve got a couple of niggling injuries but nothing major,” Reh said.
Thirroul will be determined to hold onto their premiership in this, their Centenary Year, and have a never-say-die attitude which becomes even more magnified in finals football.
And even though Thirroul have a highly respected and enviable record in finals football especially over the past 20 years, they have never won back-to-back premierships in their 100-year history.
As shown by how they fought back from being 14-0 down against Helensburgh to grab a 16-14 lead inside the final 10 minutes with centre Callum Tutauha’s second try of the game, the Butchers will aim up against Wests in a game which will determine who will bow out of their 2013 premiership campaign.
The winner will play in the final. For the loser it will be all over.
Even though there are some different playing personnel in both teams, it’s worth remembering that Wests led Thirroul 16-0 at half-time in last year’s grand final only for the Butchers to score 20 unanswered points in the second term to claim the 2012 premiership 20-16 in an absolute thriller at WIN Stadium on that first Sunday in September.
Given the expectations of both these great clubs, this Saturday’s minor final may well again rise to those heights.