With half of the 2022 Mojo Homes Illawarra Cup regular season now completed, we review how each team has fared, which players, old and new, have stood out, a wrap of some great performances, and a look forward to the big games that remain before the top four is decided and the finals begin.
IRL reporter Russ Haylock sat down with Mitch Jennings from the Illawarra Mercury to discuss each team’s performance so far this season, and how he sees the remainder of the competition playing out.
Collegians are firming as premiership contenders at the halfway point of the season, and are currently placed on top of the competition ladder. On the back of the strength of their forward pack, the Nathan Fien led outfit have clicked right across the park in their first six matches and are expected to be one of the benchmark teams at the back end of the season.
Standout Players: Their core forward pack of Josh Dowel, Blake Phillips, Charly Runciman and Liam Cassidy have provided power up the middle and on the edges for Collies, while also playing plenty of minutes.
The strength of their forwards paired with the creative halves combination of Max Devlin and Zeik Foster, have been some of the factors that have seen them enjoy such success so far this season.
Emerging Player: Hard-running centre Ben Rumble has been one of the standout junior players across the competition so far, with his performances making him a potential frontrunner for this season’s Rookie of the Year award.
Best Performance: Their 46-16 victory over rivals West’s in Magic Round was one of their best performances of the season so far, and should they be able to replicate it at the business end of the season.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 11 vs Thirroul @ Collegians Sports Stadium, Saturday July 16, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Have emerged as the team to beat for the premiership at the mid-year point. A 2-0 loss on a Gibson Park bog their only blemish, win over Wests was as good a regular-season performance as I’ve seen. Minor premiership well within reach and with differential hard to see them dropping out of the top two by season’s end..
Thirroul are also right in the mix for the title this season, with a consistent start to the 2022 season from the men in blue. With slick ball work and high standards in defence, they have only lost one of their six games and will be pushing for the minor premiership at the back end of the season if this form is able to continue.
Standout Players: Their 8-9-10 combination of Damian Sironen, Ryan Fletcher and Monty Raper have all combined to great effect so far this year, while versatile outside back Hayden Crosland and centre Steven Marsters, who was recently selected in the Cook Islands squad for their upcoming Test against Papua New Guinea, have provided plenty of attacking punch for the Butchers this year.
Emerging Players: Second-rower Ryan Couchman has followed the family legacy at the Thirroul club this season, making the position his own with plenty of eye-catching performances early on this season, before injury unfortunately cut his season short.
Best Performance: Their win over De La Salle away from home showed their ability to put together impressive 80 minute performances, outlasting the Sydney-based outfit on the back of a Steven Marsters hat-trick to come away with a 28-24 win.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 8 vs Wests @ Sid Parish Park, Saturday June 25, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Genuine premiership threat as always, shifting personnel has been an issue to this point with a lack of stability. Have a win over Collegians and still like their chances against anyone with full complement available. Expect to push into top two or just miss out and slip to third.
Western Suburbs Devils
As they often do, Wests began the 2022 season brilliantly with three comfortable wins to begin the season, and like Collegians and Thirroul have only lost one match out of six. Picking up from where they left off in the interrupted 2021 season, their attacking prowess have made them one of the teams to beat so far this year.
Standout Players: Veteran fullback Brad Scott has provided stability to their spine throughout the first six fixtures, while Joey Dickson has been reliable as ever in his new role at hooker this season.
Emerging Player: Backrower Levi Pascoe has stepped into the role as a consistent first grade starter, constantly providing a threat on the edge, using the strength of his running game to find the try line on multiple occasions.
Best Performance: Their Round 7 win against De La Salle away from home showed the mettle of the Devils outfit, as they ran out 25-10 winners despite missing some key members of their squad.
Key Upcoming Fixture: Round 13 vs Collegians @ Sid Parish Park, August 6, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: So well-balanced across the park when at full strength. Bounced back well from a touch-up at hands of Collies with wins over top-four sides Thirroul and De La Salle. Could enter minor premiership reckoning but probably a coin-flip in that 2-3 spot on the ladder.
De La Salle
Coming into the competition for the first time, De La Salle began the season in impressive fashion with three straight victories, and have won four of their six games so far. A team with X-Factor and the ability to score points in clusters, they will be looking to poke their noses back into the top three.
Standout Players: Five-eighth Wyndham Peachey (pictured left) has had a classy start to the season, and his combination with fullback Logan Aldridge has allowed them to generate plenty of points and kick away to win games in the early stages of the competition.
Emerging Player: Chaz Jarvis has been one of many impressive young players in their line-up so far this season, showing his skillset as a part of their backline across multiple positions in the first half of the season.
Best Performance: Their win over Helensburgh in Magic Round showed their ability to outlast their opposition when at their best, closing out a 28-14 win against the Tigers.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 9 vs Collegians @ Collegians Sports Stadium, Saturday July 2, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Surprise packets this year and have adjusted their own goals given how competitive they’ve been against the big guns despite struggling to close a couple out. Will want to take the points from one of the ‘big three’ before the finals to avoid heading into elimination games looking for first big scalp. Likely in that 3-4 mix.
The Tigers have been a competitive outfit throughout the season so far, with their defence one of the main attributes across their first six games. A team that has been able to stand toe-to-toe with the top sides for large periods of games, they will be looking to add a little polish to their execution in attack as they attempt to break into the top four.
Standout Players: Captain and halfback Jordan Bowles, along with his halves partner Max Batty, have been impressive in steering the team around the field, on the back of a tough forward pack and solid backline.
Emerging Player: Isaac Akuoko has shown plenty of flair on the wing and at fullback so far this season, and will be one to watch for the remainder of the season.
Standout Performance: Their 32-10 win against Dapto over the June long weekend was one of their best showings in both attack and defence across a full match this season, and they will be looking to replicate this in the coming rounds as they attempt to move up the competition ladder.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 13 vs De La Salle @ Captain Cook Oval, Friday August 5, 7:30pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: The most likely to upset the current top-four apple cart. Can compete for long stretches but draw with Corrimal in round five leaves them needing to beat De La and pinch one off the big three before the season’s out.
A young team who have shown plenty of ticker throughout the first half of the competition, Dapto will be looking to improve their standing on the ladder at the back end of the season. The Canaries look to have some impressive talent coming through the ranks, with more experience and matches played together expected to improve their fortunes going forward.
Standout Players: Five-eighth Harry Chater has provided a constant threat when taking the ball into the line for Dapto, while front-rower Taine Woodford showed some great form early on in the season as a leader in the Canaries forward pack.
Emerging Player: Plenty of young players have showcased their talent so far this season, none more than fullback Jack Piccirilli, who has stood up to the challenge of the high-pressure role at the back of the field with courage and skill so far this season.
Best Performance: Their victory over Corrimal displayed their ability to score big and come away with a 46-32 win, while their early season match against Thirroul gave glimpses of their ability to keep in touch with the top sides, leading at half time before being beaten by a flurry of second-half points.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 9 vs Wests @ Dapto Showground, Saturday July 2, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Young side with huge upside and emerging stars. Finals push probably beyond them but plenty to play for as a build into their next campaign. Finish 6-8.
Another team playing in the Mojo Homes Illawarra Cup for the first time, Cronulla Caringbah have had to battle issues with injuries and availability early on this season. However, they have shown plenty of fight and will fancy their chances to add to their tally of wins in future matches against teams closer to their standing on the ladder.
Standout Players: Cronulla Caringbah captain Josh Holt has played in a range of positions across the forward pack, and impressed with his high work rate in all of them, while Kurtis Smith has been an important member of the squad, playing in the back-row and in the halves throughout their first six matches.
Emerging Player: Being a new team in the competition, hooker James Russell has emerged as one of their best so far this season, and has stood up to the challenge of the competition well with consistent performances throughout the year.
Best Performance: Their last outing against Dapto showed plenty of ticker, as they came from behind to register their first win of the season by 32 points to 22, while they pushed Collegians hard in their first match of the season, going tit-for-tat early before being downed 30-16 in a tight contest.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 8 vs De La Salle @ Captain Cook Oval, Saturday June 25, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Brutal draw in their first Illawarra season, with first five games coming against the top five sides in the competition. Tend to think their first win over Dapto last week won’t be their last but finals out of reach. Finish 6-8.
Corrimal are yet to register a victory so far this season, despite going set-for-set with teams much higher on the ladder and have contested with plenty of physicality so far this year. However, they have floated in patches of form during games, mixing periods of brilliance with some lapses that have cost them, particularly in matches against lower ranked oppositions.
Standout Players: Halfback Harry Rudd has shown plenty of promise in attack for the Cougars, while backrower Tonga Tongotongo has played with his trademark venom when in possession and in defence across their first six fixtures.
Emerging Player: Young forward Shalom O’Ofou has been eye-catching, combining his strength and toughness with sleek ball handling skills and threatening constantly for the Cougars.
Best Performance: Their Round 5 draw with Helensburgh saw them come home with a flurry of tries to level the scores at 22-all, showing their ability to showcase their skills when momentum is in their favour.
Major Upcoming Fixture: Round 10 vs De La Salle @ Ziems Park, Saturday July 9, 3pm.
Mitch’s Prediction: Tend to drift in and out of games but when on song have a forward pack that can match it with any team in the comp. Something of a rebuild this season but, with some games back at Ziems looming, will be looking to finish the year strongly. Finish 7-8.