Nine Illawarra players earn Country call
By Mitch Jennings - Illawarra Mercury
Illawarra's long-running dominance of the CRL Championships has finally paid dividends at the representative selection table.
Nine players were selected for Country after the 42-12 thumping of Canberra in Saturday's final at Mudgee.
Illawarra scored five tries in the first half to lead 30-6 at half-time and posted two more in the second to overwhelm Canberra and seal their seventh title in nine years.
The entire left edge of Jarrod Boyle, Chris Lewis, Nathan Smith and Mitch Porter all earned Country firsts selection after producing four of the five first-half tries.
Peni Botiki and Jokatama Dokonivalu will also get a trip home for the Fiji tour in October alongside hooker Joel Johnson and fullback Wayne Bremner while Jarrod Thompson will skipper the side.
In addition, Azan Turoa, Blake Wallace and Josh Vaartjes earned Country seconds jumpers and will travel to Darwin next month.
After seeing some deserving players miss out in recent years, coach Wade Forrester said he couldn't be happier.
"We got nine players in the side and every guy that got picked thoroughly deserved it," Forrester said.
"We got four in the tier two side as well. For a six-week tournament that it is and the time they take off work, they don't get paid for it. It's that icing on the cake and I'm really proud of them.
"They did their individual clubs and the division proud."
After defeating Newcastle 21-10 a week earlier, Canberra were outgunned as Illawarra produced a near faultless first stanza and never really looked in the contest.
"I was surprised, I thought it was going to be a lot harder than that," Forrester said.
"I don't think the referee blew a penalty until the last 10 minutes of the game and that helped us. They're a big side and they did tire at the back end of both halves. We're younger and fitter and it showed. When you hold onto the ball it makes life a little bit easier ... you're building pressure.
"It can be a tough situation when you're leading by that much [at half-time]. I said there's still 40 minutes to go and I didn't want to go tit for tat.
"I said have a bit of pride in the line and the jersey and don't let them cross. They only scored only once in the second half so I couldn't be prouder."
Illawarra opened the scoring after just four minutes via Smith but Canberra hit straight back when Douglas Faaee crossed to level at 6-6.
It was all one-way traffic therefter with Porter, Lewis and Johnson notching tries in the space of 12 minutes. Botiki put a stamp on the first half with a try five minutes before the break.
Canberra needed to score first after the break and did through Tom Rudieger to cut the lead to 30-12 before late tries to Bremner and Wallace sealed Illawarra's three-peat of titles.