AFTER winning their opening eight games to start the Tarsha Gale season, Daniel Lacey’s Illawarra Steelers have now dropped their past two games and are now in danger of their season ending on Saturday.
Their 23-22 thrilling loss to Wests Tigers in Sunday’s qualifying final means they will face rivals St George in a do-or-die final this Saturday at Leichhardt Oval.
“The loss to the Tigers was a tough pill to swallow,” Lacey said.
“We started the match so well, as Maddison Weatherall got back to her damaging best.
“But the Tigers managed to score just before half-time, to swing the momentum a little.
“We tried to gain back the ascendancy in the third period but a couple of costly errors let the Tigers back into the match.
“Then in the fourth, things just didn’t click and we found ourselves behind by a try until Lilly-Rose Bennett intercepted the ball and ran 60 metres to score.
“Unfortunately, Bronte Gidler just missed the kick from the sideline, leaving the scores tied at 22-all.
“Minutes later, the match was won when Tigers star Emily Curtain slotted a field goal from 35 metres out – so hats off to her.”
While disappointing, Lacey was happy that his girls had worked hard enough during the season to earn a second bite of the cherry.
“The loss isn’t ideal but I’ve told the girls that there’s no point giving up now, as we are still well and truly alive in this competition,” he said.
“We will go back to the drawing board this week at training and continue to work on those combinations that have been so successful for us so far this season.
“It’s a big challenge and I know the girls will rise to the occasion.”
Despite having already defeated St George earlier in the season (58-32 in round six), Lacey says that game means little, now as he believes the Dragons are one of the big improvers this season.
“In my opinion, the Dragons are probably the most improved side in the competition – from where they started the year to now,” he said.
“They are a big, physical side that likes to play through the middle.
“It will probably come down to who can hold the ball more and scramble more effectively on defence.
“In nines football, there has to be space somewhere on the field, it’s up to us to try and exploit it to the best of our ability.
“If we play to our strengths, play a little bit smarter and stick to our set pieces, I have confidence we can get the win.”
On Saturday from 12pm, the Steelers side will include Group Seven products Group Seven products Bronte Girdler (Stingrays), Abbey Montgomery (Milton-Ulladulla), Chantelle Newman (Milton-Ulladulla) and Hannah England (Milton-Ulladulla).
In other Steelers news, both the SG Ball and Harold Matthews sides have been knocked out of contention for 2018.
The SG Ball side, coached by Matt O’Brien and Jono Dallas and includes Group Seven products Tarje Whitford (Milton-Ulladulla), Jack Walsh (Albion Park-Oak Flats), Dylan Lucas (Albion Park-Oak Flats), Oliver Parrish (Berry-Shoalhaven Heads), Sione Lufe (Albion Park-Oak Flats) and Samuel Hooper (Warilla-Lake South) lost in their elimination final to Canterbury-Bankstown 56-12 at Campbelltown Stadium.
Similarly, the Harold Matthews side, which includes Group Seven’s Joshua Coric, Harley Nizza and Cooper Tunbridge (all Albion Park-Oak Flats), Riley Wooden (Milton-Ulladulla), Trey Barlow (Stingrays) and Louie Chilver (Berry-Shoalhaven Heads) also lost to the Bulldogs at the same venue, with the score being 32-28.
Steelers’ Tarsha Gale squad: Lilly-Rose Bennett, Leanne Jackson, Maddison Weatherall, Eleni Amone, Hannah Byron, Keely Davis (c), Abby Holmes, Hannah England, Mikayla Kidd, Chantelle Newman, Victoria Barham, Bronte Girdler, Abbey Montgomery, Michaela Scutts, Shannon Scutts, Emily Andrews, Dakotah Mannering and Taneisha Roberts.