Thirroul stay on target with win over Wests
By Mitch Jennings - Illawarra Mercury
Thirroul showed they still have the arsenal to defend their 2014 crown with a 22-8 victory over Wests in tough conditions at Parrish Park on Sunday.
The Butchers welcomed back Trent Waterhouse, Ty McCarthy, Brent Grose and Damien Blanch after the star quartet missed their last-start loss to Corrimal and it showed on the scoreboard.
McCarthy and Grose were among the Butchers' best while their return allowed hooker Joel Johnson, who has spent the past three weeks as a makeshift half, to revert to his regular dummy-half role and produce a best-on-ground performance.
Wests were brave but sorely missed the experience and direction of skipper Matt Clarke and Daniel Holdsworth, who were out injured.
The loss could yet come at a greater cost for the Devils, with centre Bronx Goodwin placed on report for a high shot on Butchers' young gun Leigh Higgins.
With an already overflowing casualty ward, the Devils can ill afford to lose the veteran outside back.
Butchers coach Luke Swain praised his side's attitude, with howling winds forcing the match to be played at close quarters.
"Energy-wise and enthusiasm-wise we were really good," Swain said.
"It wasn't really the football we want to be playing ... it was a scrappy game in the wind. There was a lot of dropped ball and incomplete sets and we couldn't really play expansive footy.
"The wind really slowed us up and we could've adapted better but we backed it up, we tackled well and played for each other.
"We've had so many combinations in the last few weeks so we've just tried to make our tackles, do the little things and the combinations will come."
The Butchers face Wests again this Saturday at Gibson Park and, after an inconsistent start to the year, Swain is confident his side is building for a strong finals run.
"We were confident last week but we were really down on troops," Swain said. "This is us, we've got the team we need, we're relatively injury-free and there's no excuses now.
"We don't look too far ahead but we knew we had [Wests] twice so we knew if we could knock these two over we'd be making a good run to the semis."
Both sides traded tries early in the match before McCarthy strolled across from a Swain pass to take a 10-4 lead into half-time.
Pat Franks scored not long after the resumption to push the lead out to 16-4 before a clever kick and chase effort from Jordan Harty gave the Devils a sniff. The match remained in the balance until Johnson's try 13 minutes from time sealed the result.