Illawarra League 2019: Top four locked in as fight goes to the wire

FLYING: Collegians back-rower Jarrod Thompson on the charge against Helensburgh on Saturday. Picture: Anna Warr
FLYING: Collegians back-rower Jarrod Thompson on the charge against Helensburgh on Saturday. Picture: Anna Warr

It wasn't enough to get the win but Helensburgh won the race for fourth spot and a berth in the finals despite a 32-12 loss to Collegians on Saturday as the Illawarra League finals picture finally took shape.

The win sealed a top-two finish for the Dogs, though it could come at a major cost after halfback Jack Cross limped from the field with a knee injury midway through the opening half.

He'll have a week off to get ready for the major semi-final clash with Thirroul who sewed up the minor premiership with a 40-12 win over Berkeley at Gibson Park.

Wests were largely untroubled in a 26-14 win over Dapto, crushing the Canaries own faint finals hopes and booking an elimination semi-final showdown with Helensburgh next week.

The win will see the Dogs head into the finals on an eight-game winning streak having not dropped match since a one-point loss to Wests in round four.

The injury to Cross is an obvious headache but coach Nathan Fien was pleased to finish equal top of the ladder, with only for and against denying them the minor premiership.

"The goal right from the first day of preseason was to finish in that top two and give yourselves those two bites at the cherry," Fien said.

"We started off the year in reasonable form winning the preseason comp and we were probably a bit unlucky in a couple of close losses early in the year.

"We dropped those couple early on against Thirroul and Wests. We looked at it and we had our opportunities to win but at the start of the year we didn't have the nous to put teams away.

"I think we've definitely developed that throughout the year and to be able to dust ourselves and go pretty much a round and a half undefeated is a credit to the boys.

"If you said at the start of the year 'you'll finish top two' I would've grabbed it with both hands. Whether it was eight wins to start or eight-game run into the finals it's all about that top two spot that gives you the best opportunity."

The week off will be much needed, with Cross the major name in a host of players nursing some niggles.

"We'll probably know a little bit more when it settles down and he sees the physio," Fien said.

"He started the game really well and scored a good try it was unfortunate that he went down with the ankle. The week off is going to be crucial for him because, the way he hobbled off, he's have been in trouble this week."

Cross stepped across to open the scoring in what was an evenly fought first half, with the hosts hitting back through Ash Nisbet and taking an 8-6 lead via a Corey Willis penalty goal.

Jarrod Thompson strolled across five minutes before the break to re-take the lead that was extended through Fletcher Winning barely a minute into the second stanza.

The Tigers stayed in the contest with a try to Daniel Stojanovski but it was all one-way traffic from there, with Jiye Ellis, Brody Rigg and Matt Tilley all getting across before fulltime.