Illawarra keep in touch with the Intrust Super Premiership NSW top eight after fighting back from a 14-6 deficit midway through the second half to secure their third win of the season with a 20-14 victory over a desperate Wests Tigers outfit at Campbelltown Sports Stadium this afternoon.
Illawarra’s big forward pack, led by Josh Kerr and Luciano Leilua, laid the platform for Illawarra’s halves pairing of Shaun Nona and Jai Field having a hand in all three tries scored, the latter scoring two tries against the home side, whose chances of securing just their second win of the season weren’t done any favours when half Jordan Rankin was withdrawn pre-game.
It all looked too easy for the defending premiers when prop Josh Kerr - from inside his own half - burst straight through the Tigers' middle before finding Jai Field in support to streak away and score underneath the posts. Nona’s easy conversion gave the defending premiers a 6-0 lead after just three minutes.
But from there it was all the Tigers, who scored 14 unanswered points to lead 14-6 during the second half.
Their opening points came just in the seventh minute, after a penalty enabled the Tigers to go deep on the attack, before a quick shift left on the last tackle saw five-eighth Justin Hunt throw the cut-out pass for Milone to score out wide from close range to reduce the gap to two.
Some scrappy play from both sides dominated proceedings for the next fifteen minutes before the Tigers snatch a slender two point lead that they would take into half-time, with some enterprising play.
Esan Marsters regathered his own kick ahead down the western side 30m out from the Illawarra try line, before looping the ball back to supports, who shifted play across field from right to left, with Milone putting his winger Jayden Wheelhouse away on a diagonal run to score in the corner.
The Tigers extended their lead to eight in the 47th minute after an Illawarra error deep inside their own half allowed interchange forward Wesley Lolo to storm his way through the goal-line defence and score next to the posts.
That lead could have been further extended from the restart when the Tigers shifted play out right where Masters’ flick pass put winger Luke Garner into some space only for some last-ditch defence bundled the winger into touch just short of the try line.
That defensive work proved to be the turning point, as Illawarra mounted a comeback of their own, matching the Tigers’ earlier efforts of scoring 14 unanswered points to ultimately secure the two competition points.
Nona put back-rower Luciano Leilua through the line from 30m out, who in-turn provided a brilliant off-load to Jai Field just as he was falling to the ground, with the five-eighth scoring his second try underneath the posts to trail 14-12 with 25 minutes remaining.
Shaun Nona had the opportunity to level the scores in the 62nd minute after a teammate was tackled without the ball close to the Tigers try-line, but his shot at goal hit the posts.
The halfback atoned for the miss, however, landing a spectacular conversion of winger Izaac Thompson’s short blind-side play try from the eastern touchline to put Illawarra back in front 18-14 three minutes later.
Illawara stretched that lead to six points in the 69th minute, after being awarded a penalty that ironically saw Thompson sent to the sin-bin from the ensuing all-in-altercation.
But the despite having the one-man advantage over the closing minutes of the game, the Tigers were unable to bridge the gap and with today’s loss, remain at the bottom of the table with just the one win from seven games.
The Wests Tigers will now attempt to win their second game of the season when they take on Blacktown Workers next Saturday at Leichhardt Oval, while at the same time, Illawarra and Mounties will meet in a replay of last year’s grand final at WIN Stadium.
Illawarra 20 (J Field 2, I Thompson tries; S Nona 4 goals) def Wests Tigers 14 (N Milone, J Wheelhouse, W Lolo tries; J Hunt goal)