Drought relief as Helensburgh claim title
By Mitch Jennings - Illawarra Mercury
And with that, the witch is dead.
After 22 long years Helensburgh are once again the Illawarra Coal League kings following their 16-10 defeat of Wests in a grand final epic on Sunday.
The Tigers led 16-6 midway through the second half and could have ben forgiven for thinking ‘‘here we go again’’, as the Devils mounted a late charge to get within six points with three minutes remaining.
But after falling agonisingly short in three of the past four grand finals, they wouldn’t let another decider slip.
‘‘We just weren’t losing that one,’’ veteran skipper Steve McCallum said.
‘‘They came back at us hard but we just kept turning up for each other.
‘‘We’ve done it all year and we deserved to come away with the win.
‘‘It’s been a long time coming. It’s been 22 years and I couldn’t be happier. It’s unbelievable.
‘‘It’s going be a big night in the Burgh let me tell you.’’
In seemed a repeat of the major semi-final two weeks ago, Wests looked to have ambushed the Tigers when they shot to an early 6-0 lead on the back of a try to Bronx Goodwin, but they had to wait another 67 minutes to cross the line again.
Jason Raper, who returned from injury for the decider, scored the first of two tries from the Tigers’ first visit into Wests territory before Khan Salamalakis barged across seven minutes from the break to grab a 10-6 lead.
Raper’s second try gave the Burgh a 16-6 lead with 29 minutes to play before Goodwin’s second try three minutes from time sent the game down to the wire.
Elated Tigers coach Ryan Powell praised his side’s mental toughness in absorbing the Devils’ early onslaught before finding their attacking groove.
‘‘I’m just over the moon for these guys,’’ Powell said. ‘‘They probably did it the hard way but they just kept turning up.
‘‘Guys like Daniel Holdsworth and Mitch Porter throw some tough questions at you and the boys just had all the answers.
‘‘Money-wise we can’t compete with Wests but on the field, man to man, I wouldn’t doubt any one of our blokes and they got the job done.
‘‘They were making grand finals before I got here and they’ve just taken me for the ride. I can’t rap them enough.’’
Wests captain-coach Jason Ryles was left to ponder missed opportunities early in the match after dominating the opening exchanges before being overrun.
‘‘We just didn’t execute at all,’’ Ryles said.
‘‘Our completions were way down, especially in good ball, and that comes back to bite you.
‘‘When you don’t take your chances in big games it can be the difference between winning and losing, and unfortunately today that was the difference for us.
‘‘It’s disappointing but we’ve got a lot of young blokes here that are improving every week and they just hung in there and fought really hard and got us back into the game.
‘‘They’ll be back next year a little older and wiser and the club’s in good shape going forward.’’