Mounties (5) v Illawarra (8) – Elimination Final
UOW Jubilee Oval, Sunday 3 September
Streamed LIVE on NSWRL.com.au
As far as first-week elimination finals go, it doesn’t get much bigger. Mounties and Illawarra, grand final combatants in 2016, face off once again with one team to be sent packing from the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals race.
Much has already been made of the highly-anticipated rematch, with coach Mat Head admitting “the boys spoke about it a little bit” when asked about it earlier in the week. Both teams, of course, have vastly different personnel than the 34 men who contested the premiership last year – while Mounties have kept eight men from that side, Illawarra will have just four – but the memories will be fresh in the minds of both parties. Mounties’ thirst for revenge is sure to pose an extra challenge for Illawarra, but the defending premiers’ recent success in the match-up will also give them confidence.
Mounties’ six-week form is a pass mark with three wins in that period, including their best win of the season in a 51-10 thrashing of Wyong in Round 20. Illawarra have won just twice in that time, most recently coming away with a draw against the Bulldogs to secure their place in the finals, and have been victorious just once in their three games at UOW Jubilee Oval this year.
Jacob Hind, who was involved with the side but did not play in the grand final last year, knows there’s belief that his men can go on a run from eighth place.
“I think we’ll just take it as another game – we’ve had the wood on them this year so we’ll speak about what’s worked for us this year,” Hind tells NSWRL.com.au. “Hopefully we can make it three from three against them.
“If we can get on a run, a bit of momentum and play the footy that we want to play, I think we definitely can make the (grand) final again.”
As mentioned, Illawarra have the edge over Mounties in recent times; after being beaten convincingly in both encounters last year, a Drew Hutchison field goal brought the side a memorable maiden premiership. Expectations of a similar margin when the sides met again in Round 8 this year proved to be well off the mark, as did the follow-up clash 10 weeks later. Mat Head’s side enjoyed 22 and 14-point wins on those two occasions.
Mounties finished four places higher than Illawarra on the ladder, but only one win separates them, meaning this is closer than a fifth-versus-eighth match might suggest.
Where it will be won:
Mounties have a particularly strong pack boasting the likes of Royce Hunt, Liam Knight and Team of the Year selection Scott Sorensen, while Illawarra’s Hind, Jacob Host, Luciano Leilua, Will Matthews and former Mounties prop Rhys Kennedy are also that side’s strength. This battle will obviously go a long way to determining whose season is over at around 4pm on Sunday afternoon, while the battle between playmaking fullbacks Lachlan Croker (Mounties) and Jai Field (Illawarra) will also be an intriguing one.