Illawarra recorded a remarkable 38-34 come from behind victory over the Newton Jets at Henson Park on Saturday.
There were worrying signs for the visitors early, with the Jets running in three tries in just fifteen minutes through James Ramien and James Tuitahi who bagged a first-half double.
Illawarra finally awoke from their slumber ahead of the twentieth minute with form prop Josh Kerr barging his way over the line from close range, before the hosts hit straight back through Matt Evans.
A four hour plane ride from across the dip the morning of the game didn’t seem to phase Illawarra’s Jacob Host who scored a try from a scrum play underneath the sticks to shift momentum in favour of the red and whites.
Mid-season recruit John Tohi continued to show his worth when he collected a neat kick from centre Jesse Dee to score in the corner in the shadows of half-time, narrowing the half-time deficit to 22-16.
The home side were first to trouble the scorers in the second stanza with Edrick Lee planting the ball down to extend the Jet’s lead, before Illawarra’s Pat Herbert matched Lee’s efforts to again get his side back into the contest.
Moments later, Adam Clune collected a high ball from halves partner Shaun Nona, racing away to score and give Illawarra the lead for the first time in the contest.
Clune found himself in the action again putting the ever improving Matt Dufty through a gap with a mouth-watering inside ball, with the fullback dancing around defenders before scoring underneath the posts.
Gerringong Lions Junior Reuben Garrick joined the scorers party late in the game, crossing for his first try in the Intrust Super Premiership, before Newtown’s Lee pulled a rabbit out of the hat when he chipped over Illawarra defenders, regathering, before linking up with Manaia Cherrington to set-up a grandstand finish for the locals.
Illawarra were able to diffuse a final crossfield effort by the Jets on the buzzer to secure a thrilling 38-34 victory, retaining the Tom Kirk Cup.