THE Illawarra League is far from a race of two after Wests provided an emphatic reminder of their premiership credentials with a 30-22 victory over league leaders Collegians on Saturday.
It was the Devils’ first victory against top-four opposition this season but, with a final round bye to come, it will see them take valuable momentum into what will be a minor semi-final showdown with Thirroul in week one of the finals.
It was a performance spearheaded by young halves Justin Rodrigues and Zac Greene who laid on five tries between them in what was undoubtedly the Devils best performance of the season.
Having toiled hard for little reward in big matches this season, Wests assistant coach Pete McLeod said the win will ensure they take plenty of confidence into the play-off matches in two weeks time.
“Our halves were really good today,” McLeod said.
“They work really hard, they’re the first to training and the last to leave so to get a win today on the back of the way they played was great for us. It’s good for the confidence of all the boys. We’ve got a lot of young guys and they’ve worked hard all year so to get the win was a good reward for them.”
While plenty observers had already penciled in joint league leaders Dapto and Collies for a grand final showdown, Rodrigues said his side wanted to make a statement in their last hit-out of the regular season.
“We knew we had to beat a top four side going into the semis,” Rodrigues said.
“We had a draw last week [against Thirroul] but that’s no win so to show we were some sort of chance of winning the comp we had to stamp some authority today.
“Everyone’s been talking about a two-horse race between Collies and Dapto so we wanted to show we’re here, we’re Wests, and we’re as good a chance as anyone.”
The signs looked ominous for the visitors early on with the Dogs jumping out to a 10-0 lead after 16 minutes through tries to Saxon Onur and Daniel Bourke.
However, the latter’s try proved Collies’ last journey into the Devils half in the opening stanza.
The Devils opened there account through Junior Vaivai who strolled across untouched from a Rodrigues long-ball.
Lachlan Hurst scored same edge two minuts before the break to take a 12-10 lead.
The margin looked likely to hold at the break before Vaivai scored his second from a pinpoint Rodrigues grubber on the stroke of halftime to take a 16-10 lead into the interval.
Matthew Delbanco scored four minutes after the resumption 20-10 but Jordan Bowles cut the margin back to six five minutes later. Kurt Field extended the margin again with an athletic finish to a grubber from Greene.
Jordan Harty got his side back within six when he reeled in a cross-field kick from Ben Jones but the visitors hot back again off the boot of Greene who laid on Vaivai’s hat-trick.
Alec Reid’s late try got the Dogs back within eight but it was as close as they got.
We knew we had to beat a top four side going into the semis.