Tigers at full strength for decider against Wests
By Mitch Jennings - Illawarra Mercury
A back-from-the-dead performance from five-eighth Jarrod Boyle spurred Helensburgh to their fourth grand final appearance in five years with a 16-12 victory over Thirroul on Saturday.
Boyle hadn't played for five weeks following a knee injury and coach Ryan Powell was already resigned to being without his star No 6 for the remainder of the season. But an injury to replacement half Matt Riccio and suspension to hooker Grant Smith prompted the game-day decision from Boyle to pull on the boots.
It was a move that paid dividends with the Country rep, wearing the unfamiliar No 9 on his back, laying on two tries with kicks and scoring another with the troublesome knee heavily strapped.
Back-rower Chris Lewis also returned from injury against the Butchers and with Smith to return from suspension in Sunday's grand final the Tigers will be at full strength for the decider against Wests.
Captain Steve McCallum was placed on report for striking out in a scrum in the second half but, on Sunday, he was cleared to play in the decider.
Powell suggested after the major semi-final that Wests will start favourites but Devils coach Jason Ryles was keen to throw it back on the Tigers.
"They came first by nine points so I think I know who the favourites are," Ryles joked.
"But at the end of the day it doesn't matter who's the favourite it comes down to the game on the weekend," he said.
"I wasn't surprised to see them win after they way they've played all year and how consistent they've been.
"They got Boyle and Chris Lewis back on the weekend so they're going to be very hard to beat."
The Tigers led 4-0 after Butchers fullback Leigh Higgins spilled a towering spiral bomb from Boyle in his own in-goal with Ben Ryan on hand to collect the scraps.
The match turned quickly into an arm wrestle befitting a grand final qualifier and the Butchers eventually crossed through captain Luke Swain nine minutes before the break.
Ty McCarthy's conversion gave the defending premiers a 6-4 buffer at half-time. The Tigers hit back eight minutes after the resumption when Azan Turoa soared above the pack to pull down a well-weighted kick from Boyle and re-take the lead at 10-6.
The Butchers piled on the pressure and led 12-10 when Matt Syron barged over next to the posts in the 55th minute.
Staring down the barrel of a straight sets exit from the finals, the minor premiers lifted and regained the lead through Boyle who collected an Eamon Hillen kick and planted the ball next to the posts for a 16-10 lead with 15 minutes to play.
The Butchers mounted a final assault but couldn't find a late equaliser, surrendering their 2014 crown one game short of the grand final.