By Simon Masterton (NSWRL.com.au)
It’s been two decades in the making, but there’s a definite feeling around the Illawarra Steelers SG Ball side that success could finally return to the ‘Gong in 2016 - and it will come via the help of one of their greatest Rugby League products.
The Steelers, who last tasted junior representative victory with dual Harold Matthews and SG Ball premierships in 1996, have firmed as competition favourites following a hard-fought 26-22 win over the Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
Assistant coach and NSW True Blue Shaun Timmins was extremely pleased with his boys’ efforts.
“Real happy for the boys, obviously to defend the way we did,” Timmins told NSWRL.com.au.
“We made some mistakes but we defended it; they kept fighting back at us and we did enough just to hang onto the win.
“Defence is what wins these big games. It came down to the wire a bit, but very pleased and proud of the boys on how they went.”
Having finished the regular season in second place – just a converted try less than minor premiers the Knights on points differential – the Illawarra side is well-poised to bring Wollongong its first major piece of silverware since the Dragons’ NRL victory in 2010.
The Kiama junior and Steelers legend, however, believes there is still room for improvement moving forward.
“Defence has probably been massive, the last few weeks we haven’t been great in how we started the matches so I thought we started the match pretty well today,” the 210-game veteran said.
“Our defence still wasn’t great through the middle – they made a fair few breaks – but just to hold them out I was just stoked for the boys.”
The victory has earned them a free ticket to the Preliminary Finals in two weeks’ time, where they will play either South Sydney or Cronulla for a spot in the SG Ball Grand Final.
While many in Rugby League circles believe the week off can be detrimental to a team’s finals preparations, Timmins will enjoy putting his feet up next weekend.
“People always talk about ‘oh you’re better to keep playing,’ but I’m much more happy to have this week off guaranteed of that game the following week – the Grand Final qualifier,” Timmins said.
“We’ll have a usual week: we’ll have rehab Monday, we might give them a little bit of a touch-up one of the days but the boys are reasonably fit.
“That weekend we might add an extra training session in, but we’ll enjoy not having to play.”
Having represented New South Wales nine times at the highest level as a player, Timmins knows understands the importance of good chemistry in Rugby League.
Working with two close friends and former Dragons in the coaching box, the 39-year-old explains that it is vital off the field as well as on it.
“I got into it with a good mate of mine Shane Millard and Dan Hunt the former Dragons player, so we’ve been doing it a couple of years,” Timmins said.
“First time in the finals; we’ve missed out the last two years but this year we’re really enjoying it – it’s great fun.”
Timmins is no stranger to pressure and with so much experience surrounding him in the Steelers coaching ranks, there is definite reason to be optimistic about season 2016.