Collegians beat Sharks, De La Salle win in league debut

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Collegians overcame the second-half send-off of skipper Blake Phillips to outlast Illawarra league newcomers Cronulla Caringbah 30-16 at Collies on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Thirroul saw off a game Canaries outfit 38-16 at Dapto Showground, De La Salle opened their account with a 34-10 home victory over Corrimal and Wests ran in 10 tries in a 54-10 win over Helensburgh.

Leading 12-10 with 19 minutes to play, the Dogs lost their captain when the nearside touch judge reported an alleged forearm from Phillips to the head of Sharks back-rower Josh Holt.

A noted cleanskin in his long career in the Illawarra league, Phillips was dispatched for the remainder of the clash, with Cronulla taking the lead via a try to Eliah Veikoso three minutes later.

Will Russell nailed the sideline conversion to for a remarkable four-point cushion given the Sharks were twice reduced to 12 men, with captain James Russell binned for a professional foul 12 minutes into the game.

Bench weapon Reece Apolo was also dispatched for a dangerous throw just three minutes into the second half, with Collies scoring against 12 men on both occasions.

The Sharks showed plenty of grit to wrest back momentum each time, levelling up at 6-all at the break and cutting things back to 12-10 through Russell midway through the second half.

When Phillips was controversially marched minutes later the upset looked to be on the cards as the Sharks took the lead, but it proved fleeting.

Josh Dowel bulldozed his way over from close range to re-take the lead but it was former Dragons centre Charly Runciman who proved the game-breaker in splitting the Sharks open and sending Jason Gillard into the clear for the dagger blow 11 minutes from time.

“Charly was on the bench at the time and I felt I needed to get him back on there and he was the man that really stood up in that last little stint,” Collies coach Nathan Fien said.

“His first two touches after going back on the field when were down to 12 were really dominant and he opened up the game and put Jase (Gillard) away.

“It’s great to have experienced guys like that in the side when you’re other experienced guys aren’t there for whatever reason.

“I felt we had a lot of dominance early in the game but we didn’t finish a lot of things, we were obviously a bit rusty.

“I was happy at halftime with where we were at and if we started the second half well, which we did, I thought we’d come away with it.

“We got thrown a two and a seven [hand] losing Butchy (Phillips). That wasn’t the plan, but the character we showed when he went off was pleasing.

“We were down to 12, we went behind and lost a bit of momentum, but the way the boys wrestled it back at the end was pretty classy.”

The right-edge duo also combined for Runciman’s first-half try, with Alec Reid crossing late to seal the victory that appeared sparked by the loss of their inspirational skipper.

“We knew it would be a bit of a rusty start not having any trial form under our belt,” Fien said.

“Everyone’s in that boat at the moment so if you can collect a few of them when you’re not playing as well there’s less pressure on you at the back end of the year when things start to amp up.

“Having a new team like Cronulla Caringbah coming down added a whole new element with a bit of a question mark around what sort of game and style they were going to play.

“I think they answered that, they’re going to be a power in this competition and teams are going to have to be on their toes when they play them.”

Falling short of victory took nothing away from the statement Cronulla Caringbah made in taking the reigning premiers to the brink, showing plenty of character when twice down a man.

It came in the absence of heavy-hitters Michael Lichaa and Chase Stanley, who will return in coming weeks, with the showing proof the Shire heavyweights will be well in the title race.

“I wanted to play our strongest team possible against the strongest team down here,” coach Joe Lichaa said.

“Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but I’m sure we can come back and get them next time. I was very happy with the effort but you can’t play 20 minutes with guys in the sin-bin, not at this level.

“[Collies are] a yardstick, they’re a great club. We know we can do better, we’ll get better shape and better structure in the next few weeks and we’ll be right.

“I know it’s a really strong competition but, with the talent we’ve got, I’m sure we can meet them somewhere down the line in the finals period.”

It also sets up a monster clash with arch-rivals and fellow Illawarra newcomers De La Salle next week, with Lichaa expecting a crowd nudging 5000 people.

Article courtesy Illawarra Mercury

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