It’s been a see-sawing first half of the Intrust Super Premiership season for reigning premiers Illawarra who currently sit at fifth on the competition ladder.
The defending premiers knew they had their work cut out for them before a ball was kicked following the departures of a host of key players to various clubs as well as those who were promoted to the Dragons' NRL squad.
Coach Mat Head's men have won six of their eleven matches this season having defeated the Wentworthville Magpies and Newtown Jets twice each, while also earning victories over the Wests Tigers and last year's grand final opponents, Mounties.
Best game –
Illawarra’s best match to date was their thrilling 38-34 comeback victory over the Newtown Jets in Round 11 at the historic Henson Park.
It would have been easy for Illawarra to throw in the towel after the Jets gained a 16-0 lead within the first fifteen minutes of the contest.
But in true Illawarra style the team dug deep and clawed their way back into the contest, by running in seven tries to retain the Tom Kirk Cup for the sixth-consecutive time.
Worst game –
The Round 4 clash against the New Zealand Warriors was certainly one that got away from Illawarra. The side raced to an early 12-0 lead with rake Siliva Havili and centre Patrick Herbert crossing the stripe early.
Illawarra would only go on to score two more points in the contest courtesy of a Shaun Nona penalty goal.
Illawarra threw the game away as a result of ill-discipline, granting the Warriors a 21-14 victory.
Star of the Show –
Continuing his strong form in 2016, having led the side to its maiden Premiership and State Championship, skipper Tyrone McCarthy (pictured) has again stepped it up another level.
The Irish international has averaged over 100 running meters and 35 tackles per game this season.
McCarthy’s leadership has again been first class. The inspirational leader has been boosted by his fellow forwards Blake Lawrie, Jacob Hind and Jacob Host – who are forging a strong leadership group.
Casualty Ward –
Illawarra have had a handful of injuries this season, with most of them coming before a game had even been played.
The majority of the squad were nursing injuries ahead of the season and are slowly making their way back into the side or are competing for a spot from the local Illawarra competition.
The most notable injuries of the season are Eric Newbigging (pectoral) and Kal Collins (fractured leg) who will not play any part this season.
Coach's Corner –
The players remain positive ahead of the second half of the season.
Coach Mat Head said he's confident his side can continue to make inroads and eventually win consecutive premierships.
"I believe we are coming together as a group really well now," Head said.
"It was a rocky start to the season, but we are cementing some combinations now and are getting a core group of players playing with each other every week.
"I’ve been telling the boys that it’s not going to be easy, but I’m really excited to see what we can do in the second phase of the season."
Crystal Ball –
Illawarra will have their work cut out for them in the second half of the season as they come against some of the competition's toughest opponents, including road trips to Canberra, Newcastle and New Zealand.
The side will have at least two more games broadcast on Fox Sports throughout the season (Round 16 and Round 20), with both fixtures aligning with the Dragons’ clashes against the Knights and Panthers at UOW Jubilee Oval and Pepper Stadium respectively.
Illawarra will finish the regular season with back-to-back home fixtures against the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs.