NRL Round 23, 2007
Wests Tigers 25 def Cronulla Sharks 24

Robbie Farah has sent over a wobbly 15m field goal with 2 minutes remaining to get the desperate Wests Tigers home over the gutsy Cronulla Sharks.

Continuing to show their grit and determination in the past few weeks, the Sharks were again a handful tonight – proving their worth against yet another Top 8 NRL contender.

On a slippery surface at Shark park; poor handling and completion early on saw the Tigers faced with a deficit as the Sharks put on some points and grew in confidence. The Sharks exploiting the Tigers poor air defence – as again Benji Marshall and the back men for Wests looked extremely vulnerable under high balls. The Sharks pitting Luke Covell against the fringe Tigers men and having some good rewards most of the night. The Tigers falling behind by 14 points on the stroke of half time.

The break proved to be a massive momentum swinger – Tim Sheens instructing the Tigers to improve their completion (below 50% in the first half) and play patient; as he felt there were plenty of points on offer.

Once again the experience of Tim Sheens shining through – the Tigers mentor like Nostradamus; as his men got on a big roll off the back of some lightning quick play the balls. The Tigers split the Sharks right up the middle – scoring 4 tries in the space of 15 minutes and looking to have ripped the competition out of this Round 23 match.

The gritty Sharks through some nice touches were able to ease themselves back into the match; getting some good second phase play going and competing in the forwards – dominating the smaller Tigers pack for the middle part of the second half. The Tigers moving away from their skill and speed game and trying to go blow for blow with the bigger Sharks forwards was their downfall.

Sharks half Brett Seymour again had a 5 star performance; choosing the right times to kick and pass – his accuracy on short and long kicks looked as good as any half back in the NRL at present. His return to first grade and form over the last few weeks has really embarrassed Ricky Stuart – as the former Bronco no.7 has been the Sharks best in recent weeks. If the Sharks won’t keep him on board he would have no trouble finding a home in the NRL or in the UK Super League. At the other end, Tigers halfback Benji Marshall continues to find his feet – the talented half struggling in the air and having some horrid kicks which let the opposition off the hook on several occasions.

With some more success from high kicks, the Sharks clawed their way back to even pegging with the Tigers on 24 points. An uncanny Covell missed conversion snuffing out a 2 point lead for the Sharks with 5 minutes to go.

While probably still shell shocked they were caught on the scoreboard; the Tigers recomposed and employed some nice kicking of their own. Farah and Benji kicking for field position and working for a field goal in the final minutes.

The win keeps the Tigers firmly in the latter half of the Top 8 as things get desperate for all NRL clubs sniffing around positions 3-8.

Canberra Raiders 26 def NZ Warriors 24

The Canberra Raiders pulled a Rabbit out of their hat tonight, as they snuck home by 2 points after being down by 10 points with only 10 minutes to go.

The scheming Todd Carney was the architect tonight; never giving in and proving elusive at the end as he scored a late try and nailed two important conversions to give his side the edge in a confidence booster to the side that has again struggled in 2007.

The Warriors looked set to continue their flowing Rugby League style tonight; it was probably only a momentary lapse that cost the visitors dearly – not only losing the game, but missing the chance to jump into the Top 4 after Parramatta stumbled against Melbourne on Friday night. The Warriors remain on 25 points; just shy of the Cowboys, Dogs and Eels.

The NZ Warriors have a tough assignment next week; they face the no. 2 side – the Manly Sea Eagle in what should be a titanic clash at Mt Smart Stadium New Zealand. Surely half of Auckland will get over to the stadium to watch what should be some stellar Rugby League.

The win tonight ensures the Raiders won’t be contesting the wooden spoon in NRL 2007 – a side that has showed some promise and will gain some confidence moving into 2008. Some good buys and the additional experience of the coach and talented juniors will see the Raiders challenge shortly.

Cowboys 24 def Dragons 14

Unlike the Warriors, the Cowboys didn’t miss their chance to climb into the Top 4 tonight – eventually running over the top of a spirited Dragons outfit.

The Dragons looked good early; dominating all areas and getting the early points – however some massive forward thrust from the Cowboys engine room saw their bookends dominate the rucks and charge over the ad line for some good field position.

Again the Dragons showed glimpses of their former world beating selves but don’t have any patience and at times looked so frustrated they don’t even seem to be communicating well with each other. Mark Gasnier in particular looked very unhappy with things, disputing many ref calls and throwing the ball away in anger on several occasions. It seems the very position the Dragons have been leading the NRL in has now become their problem – the Dragons are lacking good forwards. Jason Ryles continues to toil hard, but is not near his former representative form level from several years ago. Predicted Dragons star Ashton Sims hasn’t seemed to have taken steps forward into an experienced leader and falling behind is guys like Adam Peek – a good rotational forward; but not someone who can turn a match.

The Cowboys put their hand up tonight; missing Steve Southern the surging try from Ray Cashmere typified the effort from the North Queensland forwards. His first ever NRL try, Cashmere dragged two defenders over 5 metres to crash over for a confidence boosting touch down.

When the game was in the balance tonight – old stager Jason Smith was injected by coach Graham Murray and he didn’t disappoint. Smith might be the grand daddy of the NRL, and even with limited game time in the past few months his kicks and touches were sublime. The former Raider, Eel and Bulldog even getting a try for himself off a nicely held up Jonathan Thurston pass.

The Cowboys not only jump into the Top 4 – but their confidence is back nearing early 2007 levels. A prime place to be after the pain they experienced only a few weeks ago; with Southern coming back in 2 weeks and confidence levels peaking – they might just prove earlier NRL News reports wrong. (Yes, I will happily eat humble pie – and send a photo to the Cowboys)

Next week North Queensland face the Knights at EA Stadium in Newcastle and finish off the regular season with a classic clash against the Bulldogs at Dairy Farmers.

By ricky

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