Shellharbour beat Kiama to book spot in Group 7 Grand Final
By Tim Keeble - Illawarra Mercury
Minor premiers Shellharbour wore down a stubborn Kiama in Sunday's major semi-final at Ron Costello Oval, coming from behind to win 26-18 and book a grand final berth.
The Sharks' victory helped ease the pain of their only defeat of the regular season, a 20-18 home loss to Kiama in round 16.
Shellharbour will line up in the premiership decider against the winner of this Sunday's final between Kiama and Gerringong.
"We're very happy to get three grades in there in a fortnight, we can't wait," Sharks coach Dave Walsh said.
"It's no good getting there if we don't win it, so we've got some work to do. The good thing about our boys is that they're all mates so they all want to work hard for each other."
Hooker Hans Schuster gave the home side a perfect start when he capitalised on a Knights error and scored for a try after only 90 seconds.
But Shellharbour's 6-0 lead was erased by Kiama prop Luke Sutton's try under the posts. Then his front-row comrade Vaughan Thistlethwaite went over in the same spot minutes later to propel the Knights to a 12-6 lead.
Shellharbour centre Kurt Field scored five minutes before half-time to make it 12-10 - and that's how it stayed until the break.
The Sharks took a 16-12 lead with five-eighth Dylan McGregor's try, only to see Kiama forge ahead 18-16 when fullback Tom Atkins converted his own try with 20 minutes remaining.
The lead changed hands for the last time with Sharks centre Ian Catania's try. Jai Field's conversion made it 22-18, while Kurt Field put the result beyond doubt with a 77th-minute try in the corner.
"They made us work hard, but it's semi-final footy and you wouldn't expect anything less," Walsh said.
"We were on the wrong side of the penalty count and there was a few questionable decisions, so they probably had more ball than us. Credit to the boys. They dug deep.
"Kiama got their two tries in the first half on the back of four penalties, so if we can eliminate that we'll be better for it in a fortnight.
"We'll freshen the boys up again and get ourselves ready. There's a few areas we have to work on but at the end of the day it just comes down to a fair bit of guts and we certainly had that today."
The Knights knew they had let an opportunity slip.
But there were no long faces in the dressing room and they remain upbeat about their prospects of claiming their first premiership in 30 years.
"Everyone got through without injury, and the beauty of finishing third is that we've got that second bite of the cherry," Kiama co-coach Matt O'Brien said.
"We play Gerringong next week and it's probably the biggest game the club's had for a few years. Unfortunately all four grades lost today, so we'll all be there at home next week," O'Brien said.
"The best thing for us is we get another chance. The last time Kiama played in a grand final was '85, so you don't need any more incentive than that - especially against Gerringong."