A Jai Field-inspired Illawarra side has overcome two deficits in a crazy game of Rugby League to eliminate Mounties in a 30-26 thriller.
Field scored a last minute try to steal the game from Mounties, but was instrumental for the entire contest, scoring two tries and setting up another to ensure Illawarra will take on the Canterbury Bulldogs next week.
Will Cullen would be first on the board for Mounties, with the big lock forward taking a short ball from Liam Knight to cross. Converted by Maurice Kennedy, it would be an early 6-0 lead in favour of Steve Antonelli's men.
Illawarra penalties gave Mounties a chance to push further ahead and when ad-lib play was forced, Croker put in a grubber which narrowly trailed dead in-goal.
A freak bounce for Adam Clune then looked to help Illawarra open their account, but an error brought them undone soon after in good field position. A back-and-forth contest ensued until Mounties came up with an error in good position - but a surprising push in the resulting scrum immediately forced a dropped Illawarra ball. Mounties then fed the scrum themselves and scored immediately, spreading it wide to Michael Oldfield for the side's second. A conversion from the sideline gave them a 12-0 lead.
Some slick hands by Illawarra and skilful ball handling by Jai Field got Illawarra on the board with just the smallest amount of space in front of him, but his speed and acceleration got him around the Mounties defence before converting his own try.
Two players with big futures in the game linked up for the next try, as Luciano Leilua threw a marvellous face-ball into the breadbasket of Taane Milne, who ran through a yawning gap to notch the deficit back to two points.
On the stroke of halftime, the brilliance of Field struck again which gave Illawarra the lead at half-time. He sold a massive dummy to his right and his acceleration once again allowed him to get through the Mounties defence, before throwing the ball inside to Sam Clune who strolled over untouched.
The first scoring play of the second half was a 30-metre penalty goal to Field, and Illawarra received a penalty at the start of the ensuing set. They took full advantage of the field position thanks to a neat grubber weaved through the defence by Adam Clune before the ball sat up for Josh Kerr who timed his run to perfection.
Mounties needed some inspiration and that came in the shape of Liam Knight, who forced an error with a massive tackle on halfway before Yileen Gordon powered his way through off the following set to score an incredibly important try for the Mulga.
Momentum is a hard thing to stop in Rugby League, but it's not as hard to stop as Scott Sorensen. Mounties found their way back in field position off the back of a penalty, and when Sorensen was able to wind up, he sharply stepped off his right foot and bullied his way over the line to bring the score back to 24-22 in favour of Illawarra.
Field was in the thick of the action again when it looked like Izaac Thompson looked to have crossed, but the pass from the live-wire fullback was ruled forward by the referee.
A dive that would not look out of place in the Olympics by Oldfield gave Mounties the lead when he ran at full pace onto a short-ball by Lachlan Croker, and he leapt through the Illawarra defence to score a try that was just beautiful to watch.
Mounties looked as though they had sealed the match when Croker threw a basketball pass to his winger that was ruled forward, just as Field's was 10 minutes earlier.
Just when the game and Illawarra's season looked over, Field stormed onto an inside pass from Leiliua through a gap and had far too much speed as he sprinted around Croker to score the match-winning try.