WARILLA-Lake South have taken out the Group 7 Rugby League minor premiership and earned a valuable week off, but were forced to earn it on Sunday.
The Gorillas downed third-placed Nowra-Bomaderry 38-24 in glorious conditions at Cec Glenholmes Oval.
Despite appearing out-muscled at times, the Jets refused to go away and will take plenty of consolation from pushing Warilla throughout.
Aaron Henry, substituting for regular pivot Jesse Dee, scored a hat-trick for the home team during a great, end-to-end hit-out for both outfits leading into this weekend’s semi-finals.
The visitors opened the afternoon’s scoring in the tenth minute when on the back of a couple of penalties Matt Rouen barged over despite the attention of multiple defenders.
Henry capitalised on an alleged Nowra two-man strip, being too difficult to halt from close range.
During a game where the respective teams were frequently punished for ill-discipline, the Gorillas received a piggy-back penalty from the next set of tackles.
The Warilla forwards steamrolled down-field, an ensuing overlap enabling Tyson Brown to power across the stripe for 12-6.
Just when it appeared the size and aggression of the home side’s pack would dominate their opposition, a Warilla error from the kick-off afforded Nowra the chance to square the ledger.
Skipper Ben Wellington’s strength and elusiveness did just that.
Shortly after the Jets were penalised while in possession, and Dane Corran caught the defence napping, diving over from dummy half and planting the ball next to the posts to lead 18-12 at the interval.
The rapid momentum shifts continued upon the resumption.
In the 43rd minute a towering Geoff Johnson bomb was spilled and Nowra’s Jack Atfield picked up the crumbs.
Conversely, the visitors again rued giving away a penalty in possession; winger Chad Lisch’s great handling reeling in a Henry grubber-kick.
Craig Nolan’s sideline conversion presented them with another six-point buffer.
Not conceding defeat, Jets winger Keiran Brandon backed up a line break and possessed too much speed for the cover defence, locking up the scores.
A scrum penalty to Warilla relieved the home team, the defence again unable to stop Henry a few metres out from the try-line.
Further four-pointers to Blake Colgan and Henry within the final ten minutes blew out the margin, which perhaps didn’t quite reflect the closeness of the contest.
The Gorillas will meet the winner of the Shellharbour City/Nowra-Bomaderry match in week two of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Nowra appear to be a genuine threat to title favourites Warilla and Shellharbour.
Henry, Damien Paulissen, Keiran Rankmore and Luke Watts were the best for the Gorillas, while Johnson, Steve Brandon, Rouen and Ryan James worked hard for the Jets.