Intrust Super Premiership Grand Final Preview: Mounties v Illawarra Cutters
It's very fitting that teams ranked one and two on the Intrust Super Premiership ladder will play off for a place in the NRL State Championship match on Sunday week.
But it wasn't a walk in the park for either team in progressing to the NSWRL decider.
Both the Mounties and the Cutters had to come from behind to win their preliminary finals over the Wests Tigers and Newtown Jets respectively.
Down 18-6 at half-time the minor premiers Mounties pegged back the Tigers' advantage to win 24-18 and as a result have named an unchanged team.
The Cutters also left it late to down the Jets 18-10 thanks to two tries in the final 10 minutes from Jacob Host and Adam Quinlan.
Drew Hutchison has been named to start at halfback this weekend with Christopher Lewis joining Sam Clune on an extended bench.
Watch out Mounties: At just 19 years old, back-rower Host has achieved so much already in his young career. The Junior Kangaroos star played eight games for the Dragons this season and averaged 78 metres and 20.4 tackles per game in limited minutes. Host was crucial for the Cutters making the ISP decider with his 73rd-minute try kick-starting the Cutters' fightback.
Watch out Cutters: The likes of Shaun Fensom, Jeff Lima and Adam Clydsdale are obvious threats for the Cutters but one man who hasn't received the attention he deserves is fullback Zac Santo. The former Cowboys lower grade star joined the Raiders in 2016 and has been a shining star for the Mounties. Santo has been restricted to one NRL game for Canberra but was close to their best against the Broncos in Round 14. The 23-year-old scored a try in each of his games against Illawarra this year.
Key match-up: Sam Williams v Drew Hutchison. Williams hasn't let his limited NRL game time (eight appearances) get him down this season. Williams was awarded the Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year at last week's Brad Fittler Medal awards night. Williams will face off with young Dragons playmaker Hutchison, who last week started off the bench in the Cutters' preliminary final in a purely tactical move. It paid dividends in the final 10 minutes when the 21-year-old laid on two late tries to seal Illawarra's passage to the decider.
The history: The Mounties lost only three times the entire season so it comes as no surprise they beat the Cutters on both occasions they've played in 2016. A hat-trick from Kato Ottio saw the Mounties destroy the Cutters 50-16 in Round 5. It was much closer in Round 11 however but the result didn't differ as the Mounties came away with a 22-12 win at Aubrey Keech Reserve.
Match Officials: Referee: Jon Stone. Sideline Officials: Jay Farlow and Jimmy Oliveira.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 4pm.
What they said: "From the outside looking in, it probably looks like we have punched above our weight this season because we didn't make the finals last year. From within though, we targeted the top four from the start and once we achieved that we wanted to make the big dance." – Cutters coach Jason Demetriou
"It's fitting that one and two are in the grand final. If it's a dry-weather paddock, it'll be a great game of footy. They've got skill across the park with their halves, and even in their middle with [Josh] McCrone and their halves, Hutchison and [Shaun] Nona." – Mounties coach Steve Antonelli
The way we see it: The Mounties have won 11 games in a row and will play the same day as their Mounties Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield counterparts. What will prove to be a special day for the club if all three Mounties outfits emerge victorious, expect the senior side to hold up their end of the bargain. Mounties by eight points.