Thirroul to play Helensburgh in Challenge Cup final
The Challenge Cup final will be a Coal League grand final replay after Thirroul and Helensburgh on Saturday advanced to the June decider.
The Butchers held off a fast-finishing Wests 18-14 in a fierce battle at Dapto Showground, while Helensburgh accounted for Corrimal 32-16 in the first semi-final.
It was the Butchers' best performance of the year after suffering a 34-8 loss to Helensburgh in round one.
They bounced back with six tries in a solid 34-16 win over Corrimal in round two before the deluge that hammered the Illawarra forced the Coal League into a two-week hiatus.
The victory over a formidable Wests outfit was a welcome result ahead of the competition proper's resumption next week, but captain-coach Luke Swain believes his new side has another level to go to.
"I'm excited that we've got a lot more footy in us," Swain said.
"We were able to scratch out a win in a pretty tight affair but in saying that I still don't think we've played close to our best footy.
"We've still got heaps left in us. We just need some combinations to click and we'll be a very good footy side this year. We've been saying that for a little while now, so it's got to start happening soon but we had a big break as well.
"It's hard to work on combinations when you're just stuck in the gym doing fitness because of the weather but it was positive for us.
"We didn't really get on the field until the Thursday before the game but our defence was much better than it has been this year and that's the biggest indicator of where your attitude's at."
It's only his first year at the Butchers but Swain said he's already received a crash course in the rivalry between the northern neighbours that will see a new chapter on June 14.
"It's huge and I've sensed it straight away," Swain said. "There's always rivalry with different clubs but that's the derby; that's the big one that everyone wants to win. I'm sure the final's going to be a cracker."
Wests led 4-0 at quarter-time on the back of a try to Mitch Porter before the Butchers hit back through Joel Ruskin and Andrew McCarthy. Nathan Dureau scored the first of his two tries to cut the lead to 12-10 at three-quarter-time to set up a dramatic final quarter.
Butchers hooker Joel Johson proved the game-breaker with a brilliant individual try to extend the lead to 18-10 with eight minutes to play.
Dureau scored his second to set up a grandstand finish with two minutes on the clock but the Butchers held on.
Undefeated Helensburgh were clinical in the first semi-final, with Chris Lewis and Simon Maslanka scoring doubles in the victory over Corrimal.
This article originally appeared in the Illawarra Mercury on 10/5/2015