Success: The Illawarra representative team celebrate at Mudgee on Saturday. Picture: SCOTT HAZLEWOODIllawarra have again shown why they are the powerhouses of Country Rugby League with a dominant performance to dispatch of Canberra 42-12 in their tier one country championships final on Saturday.
Canberra were blown off the park inthe first half at Mudgee’s Glen Willow Stadium, the match effectively over at 30-6.
llawarra’s win caps a stunning run of success at tier one level,the victory its seventh win in nine years and their third ina row.
Illawarra coach Gary Hart was surprised at how easily his side rolled over the top of Canberra early.
“We knew we had to start well against Canberra because we saw how they played against Newcastle last start,” Hart said.
“Our forwards set the platform in the middle for us today.Both our left and right end back-rowers, Peni Botiki and Chris Lewis were outstanding. They created havoc every time they touched the ball.
“But we had no poor players. We knew we had to lift today and we did that and full credit to the guys, they took full ownership of the side and they deserve the result because of it.”
Canberra manager Tom Ebsworth said his side probably peaked too early.
“I think we might have left our game at Camden [where Canberra beat Newcastle in the semi-final],” Ebsworth said.
“We played really well in the first 40 minutes last weekend and the boys just didn’t come out and repeat it.And that’s because we didn’t control the footy to start with. From the kick-off we let it go out and were on the back foot, while last week we were able to attack with our defence.”
Ebsworth paid tribute to the winners and said despite the final margin the final was not a totally negative outcome for Canberra.
“Illawarra are a very good side and they did their homework on us and they got the win,” he said.
“Some of the boys have never played rep footy before and they’ve been picked for Country, so it’s not all negative. We’re happy for them as players.”
Canberra were under pressure from the outset thanks to a mistake from the kick-off with Illawarra centre Nathan Smith dutifully rubbing more salt into the wounds to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Illawarra became guilty of the same mistake as a turnovergifted Canberra a chance to hit back,Douglas Faaee bashing his way across the line.
After busting them up the middle, Illawarra exploited the gaps out wide,Mitch Port scoring and converting before Lewis crossed seconds later to tighten its grip on the clash early.
Illawarra’s ability to generate second-phase play continued to cause problems as Joel Johnson backed up well, with the margin ballooning to 18.
The edge defence by the Raiders continued to look suspect and Illawarra’s huge pack did not need a second invitation.
Botiki lined up fullback Tom Ruediger and left him sprawling, leaving Canberra shellshocked in the shadows of half-time.
They needed to be first to score after the resumption and Canberra’s prayers were answered whenRuediger scooped up a spilt ball.
Canberra continued to play oneoff the ruck, which Illawarra defended without much trouble.
Illawarra again showedits class with Wayne Bremner bursting through a gap after a well held-up pass.
Mitch Porter continued his perfect record with the boot as his side continued to keep Canberra at arm’s length 36-12,with Blake Wallace finishing the rout for the men in red and white.
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