In easily their best performance of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW season to date, Illawarra repeated their 2016 Grand Final triumph over Mounties with a convincing 40-18 win in the rematch at WIN Stadium this afternoon.
Mounties got off to the best possible start in the fourth minute when a Lachlan Croker grubber kick in goal on the last tackle was not cleaned up in-goal, allowing centre Reuben Rennie to pounce and score his first try. Mounties led 6-0 after Isaac John’s conversion.
The home side replied on their first real attack inside the Mounties 20-metre zone in the 18th minute when a superb 30-metre Shaun Nona cut-out pass hit winger Izaac Thompson on the chest for the winger to cross over untouched in the corner for his first try.
In a nip-and-tuck first half, Mounties made the most of a repeat set from an obstruction penalty in the 26th minute when John fed an unmarked Rennie to score his second try out on the right. John again converted for a 12-4 lead.
Following a repeat set of their own in reply seven minutes from half-time, returning Illawarra centre Taane Milne showed great strength to power over in the right corner to reduce the deficit in a tight contest to 12-10 at half-time after Nona converted from close to touch.
Illawarra then set down their stall in just the third tackle of the second half when second-rower Luciano Leilua made a 40-metre burst down the left-hand blind side before sending fullback Matt Dufty away to score a superb long-range try. Nona’s conversion gave Illawarra a 16-12 lead.
Errors started to creep into the Mulga’s game at this point – and from one of those errors eight minutes later, a spread to the left saw Thompson score his second try with an extravagant dive in the corner. It extended the home side’s lead to 22-12 with another Nona conversion.
The defending premiers then scored the best try of the match in the 54th minute. Running the ball on the last tackle from half way, interchange backrower Chris Lewis burst clear before passing to Dufty in support.
The fullback then linked up with Jai Field, who then passed on to Milne who streaked away for his second try – running around under the posts to score for good measure. Nona’s conversion had Illawarra up 28-12 with just over 20 minutes left.
The desperate Mulga then upped the ante for the next 10-12 minutes – forcing three goal-line drop-outs and multiple sets of six attacking the Illawarra line.
The home side’s defence held up until Mounties finally cracked the Illawarra line with nine minutes left when Rennie completed his hat-trick of tries down the right to give the visitors some hope at 28-18 after Nona converted from out wide.
Another Mounties error – this time a forward pass – from the restart then opened the door for Illawarra to put the game to bed. The home side duly obliged when prop Josh Kerr crashed over under the posts with five minutes left to secure the two competition points.
One last Mounties error in the closing stages saw a Nona grubber kick in goal evade the Mulga cover for Thompson to complete his hat-trick with 90 seconds left. One last Nona conversion put the icing on the Illawarra cake.
Mat Head’s defending premiers now sit in fifth spot on the Intrust Super Premiership NSW ladder after other results went their way over the weekend – and will look to consolidate their position when they play the North Sydney Bears at the Nowra Showground next Saturday.
Mounties for their part will try and regain form against Canterbury-Bankstown at Belmore Sports Ground next Saturday.
Illawarra 40 (I Thompson 3, T Milne 2, M Dufty, J Kerr tries; S Nona 6 goals) def Mounties 18 (R Rennie 3 tries; I John 3 goals)