Nona primed for ISP grand final rematch
Illawarra will be looking to build on recent success when they host Mounties at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
This will be the first time the two sides have met since the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership grand final where Illawarra defied all odds thank to a field goal at the death by halfback Drew Hutchison.
The story for the defending premiers this season is very different, with the bulk of their 2016 squad either moving on or earning call-ups to the Dragons NRL squad in 2017.
While Albion Park-Oak Flats junior Hutchison was firm favourite to fill the No. 7 jumper for the Red V, his unfortunate season-ending knee injury in the pre-season has denied him that chance.
However, Shaun Nona, one of Hutchison's halves partner in last year's decider still remains at the club and is primed for the upcoming clash.
With Illawarra coming off a gutsy win over the Wests Tigers last weekend, Nona is confident his team can build on that performance and make some in-roads into the competition.
The playmaker dismissed any suggestion that the premiers tag is hindering on-field performance, rather the slow start to their premiership defence campaign was a result of their developing roster.
"It’s been a tough couple of weeks with us suffering consecutive losses but I think we responded positively last weekend," Nona said.
"Penalties and errors coming out of our own end are hurting us despite us being in the grind with teams most games.
"I don’t fully agree with the criticism surrounding the team at the moment, and I think a lot of people have got to realise we’ve lost some quality players and are currently teething the next generation as a result.
"We also have a new coach in Mat Head who has been great but like some players he's still learning his trade too."
Nona believes the Mounties will be out for revenge after their heartbreaking end to their campaign, but said his team has a bigger point to prove being the defending premiers.
"I have no doubt Mounties would have circled this game on the calendar and will be out for revenge after being the most consistent team in 2016 and falling at the final hurdle," Nona said.
"This grand final rematch is a massive game for us. I’m really looking forward to this challenge on Saturday in front of our home fans."