Wests continued their unbeaten start to the season with a clinical 48-6 blitz of Cronulla Caringbah in the Mojo Homes Illawarra Cup at Henson Park on Saturday, setting up mouth-watering showdown with Collegians this weekend.
The Devils ran in nine tries, including doubles to Mitch Phillips and Colby Pellow, with a hamstring twinge that ended star prop Dylan Lauri’s second-half shift the only drawback for coach Pete McLeod.
The victory came without key men Callum Waldock and captain Mitch Porter, though stand-ins Joseph Dickson and Lachlan Hurst were among the Devils’ best.
“Joey’s just a footballer you can put him anywhere and he’ll do a good job,” McLeod said.
“With the limited training we’ve been able to do I just had to put players in positions that had been around the system for a long time. Hopefully we get Cal back as soon as possible, but Joey’s always going to do a job for you.
We weren’t perfect | Wests Coach Peter McLeod
“It was pretty scrappy but we played to the last minute, we played to the 80th and scored some tries at the back end.
“That’s what we wanted to do, put a bit of fatigue in them. We didn’t do it perfectly but you’ll take the win at this time of year.
“It was good to be on a dry track and get the chance to play some dry-weather footy, which we haven’t been able to do all preseason. It was a good result in the end but still plenty to work on.”
It leaves the Devils one of just two sides yet to suffer a defeat this season, with Thirroul also holding that distinction after seeing off De La Salle 28-24 at Points Bet Stadium.
Wests are arguably traveling the best having churned through three wins by a combined 132 points to just 26 as they set a cracking pace in the early race.
“I think for the players, not just us but across rugby league, it’s been a hard task the last three years to stay motivated through COVID and then the [wet] weather,” McLeod said.
“It’s been difficult but the boys are really hungry for success, a lot of our players are getting to that age where they’ve been around a while and they know what it takes to win.
“They’re a good bunch of guys and I think we’ll be as good as anyone on our day.”
Collegians convincing winners over Dapto
Collegians loom this weekend as the Devils’ biggest test thus far, the Dogs comfortably accounting for Dapto 42-10 on Saturday.
“It’s our biggest challenge so far,” McLeod said.
“Whenever we play Collegians they’re always difficult to beat. They’re our neighbours and they always put a good team together.
“Just watching some highlights this year they’re tracking really well so it’ll be a step up and we’ll have to do better than we did today to beat them.”
The Devils struck nine minutes in through Isaiah Kennedy on the left flank and followed up through Pellow 11 minutes later.
Sharks winger William Russell struck back and nailed a sideline conversion to peg things back to 10-6 through an even 30 minutes.
The wheels fell off from there, with errors opening the door for a Phillips double in the 15 minutes before halftime that saw the Devils lead 20-6 at halftime.
It was all Wests from there, running in five tries in the final 20 minutes as they sprinted through the finish line on a 48-6 win.
It leaves the Sharks win-less and battling to stay in the finals race in their first season in the Illawarra league, though it’s come on the back of a tough draw.
Thirroul prevail in thriller
At Points Bet Stadium Thirroul escaped with a four-point win in a thriller, a Hayden Crosland try in the 77th minute snatching victory.
The match shaped a true test of De La’s credentials and the newcomers passed with flying colours despite falling short of victory.
The Butchers led 16-12 at halftime on the back of a Steve Marsters hat-trick, but trailed 24-22 with 12 minutes left after De La prop Sione Afemui barged over from close range.
Marsters’ penalty goal five minutes from time levelled the scores before Crosland snared the match-winner in the dying stages.
Article Courtesy Illawarra Mercury | Image Anna Warr