The Wests Tigers have turned on some vintage play as they again flexed their attacking prowess to hold out a valiant Gold Coast Titans outfit who worked hard to keep in touch as things rarely went their way today at Leichhardt – the visitors falling just short to the Tigers 20-18.
A large local crowd of 17,493 jammed into the Tigers’ aging home ground at Balmain, the melting pot making for a perfect backdrop on what was an entertaining and at times heated clash between the two attacking giants.
The Tigers came out firing, the home side having a mountain of possession the only blemish on their opening minutes was poor kicking from Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, who kicked out on the full at various times and allowed the Titans enough breathing room to survive.
Wests were playing their famous up-tempo attacking game with good rewards, but even more impressive was their improved defence and commitment – the side lifting a gear from the previous outing against the Knights. The Tigers were tackling in numbers and driving the Titans back at every opportunity.
The Tigers started with Matt Head at halfback and Benji Marshall at five-eighth, Marshall gaining confidence with every touch but the star pivot will take time to get back his peak fitness and flexibility after such a long lay-off. The Titans had their own reshuffle, with Anthony Laffranchi not backing up from State of Origin and outside back Brenton Bowen having to face a late fitness test after breaking down during the warm-up today.
Ahead 14-6 at the break the Tigers had to hold out wave after wave of Titans attack in the 2nd half, as the visitors made a late charge with 15 minutes remaining. Even when Wests had what looked to be a comfortable lead, they did look to be blowing a bit and the Titans fitness regime under Billy Johnstone looks to be a key to their success in 2008 – as the side seemed to come into their own in the final quarter of the match.
The set plays from the Tigers had the crowd in raptures, a higlight coming when veteran fullback Brett Hodgson took a neat inside pass at fullspeed from Matt Head in the 58th minute to weave through the Titans back markers and crash over for a 20-6 lead. After this hot Tigers try, you could be forgiven for thinking a cricket score was about to come from the home side – with bounce of the ball and possession all going their way.
The large lead probably gave Wests a false sense of confidence, they did seem to clock off for the middle section as both teams went about an arm wrestle as the pace eased somewhat after half time. Spectators had no idea what was about to unfold as the visitors continued to chip away at the Tigers and launch a late counter attack and nearly snatch an unlikely victory.
Quick-fire touchdowns to Brenton Bowen in the 68th minute and Preston Campbell in the 72nd had the Titans storming to within 2 points and a late shot at the win with 5 minutes to play.
The committed Tigers managed to keep the Titans at their own end during the final minutes and, as they threatened to break away with two minutes left, the Titans were pulled up for a forward pass, much to the relief of the vocal crowd. The failure of the final pass seemed to be the order of the day for the Titans, so many times they managed to gain a line-break only to have the off-load or second phase pass go to ground or find the hands of a Wests Tigers player sniffing around the backplay.
For the Tigers, Ben Te’o, Robbie Farah and Hodgson scored tries with Hodgson nailing 4 from 4. While Hodgson and Farah again played well, it’s the Tigers forwards that are doing their bit to keep their side on the rise. Ben Teo is growing heavily in player stocks, as the talented forward continues to impress all-comers and such is the case with Keith Galloway who on current form surely must be within the top ranks of props in the game.
The Titans’ showed their ability with the ball and even with limited chances they managed 4-pointers through Aaron Cannings and Bowen, while Scott Prince converted 3 in his first appearance at Leichhardt since leaving Wests Tigers in 2006.
Tempers flared not long before half time when Mat Rogers played blatantly for a penalty and angered Tigers forward Corey Payne. Milking like an Italian Soccer Pro, Mat Rogers managed to get the penalty but was quickly set upon by Payne and Tigers players as frustrations set in over the acting from Rogers. The wash-up saw Tigers prop Bryce Gibbs and Titans hooker Nathan Friend sent to the bin for 10 minutes because they were the third and fourth into the scuffle. And it couldn’t be called more than a scuffle, sadly NRL Rugby League is now exactly like AFL – when players come together, there is hugging, pushing, rolling and everything else under the sun that makes them look like 4 years old rolling around in the sand-pit; but anyway thats the way it is now.
The large home crowd and dynamic atmosphere at Leichhardt demonstrates the power of the suburban home ground and must surely make Tigers officials stand-up and realise that ANZ Stadium while financially viable might come at the cost of NRL competition points – which on their own mean financial windfalls at the end of the day.
The Tigers were noticeably ‘up’ for this match and after leading 12-0 after only 14 minutes on play when Farah dived over from dummy-half – you got the feeling they were going to score enough points to secure the win.
The Titans hit back in the 21st when Prince laid on a try under the posts for interchange forward Aaron Cannings for 12-6.
But, after Hodgson had missed an earlier penalty shot, the full-back knocked over two points from the O’Dwyer penalty for the Tigers to lead 14-6 at the break.
After 3 matches against the new Gold Coast side, this is the first time the Wests Tigers have managed to secure a victory over the newest NRL franchise.