The Wests Tigers played smart NRL football to outpoint the St George Illawarra Dragons, despite the loss of their no. 1 playmaker Benji Marshall after only 3 minutes. Marshall went down after just a basic tackle and immediately pulled up lame in the knee, latest reports suggesting posterior cruciate problems and possibly 6-12 weeks out for the luckless five-eighth.
On a hot Sydney day, the Tigers played the smarter game – keeping their plays simple and tight centre field and then picking the right times to expand and run the angles. Possession and control ultimately giving Wests the advantage, rather than any flashy or overly skillful play.
For St George Illawarra it was Groundhog day, or should we say Groundhog year – because they strolled out onto the SFS like it was 2007 all over again. Failure to secure possession, unforgivable forward passess from dummy half, stupid penalties and failure to find touch – everything that could go wrong did, and they didn’t know how to stop the rot.
For the Tigers, apart from having a smart game plan of starting simple then building on it; they actually stuck to their guns and didn’t force the pass. If a set move wasn’t on, they simply took the tackle and tried it again a set later. They compensated perfectly for the loss of Benji Marshall and there are many that feel in some ways the Tigers are a better team when they don’t simply rely on Marshall to do everything. Each player lifted a gear and in particular John Morris steered the team around beautifully and capped it off with some solid and accurate kicking.
Morris was aided by constant good kick chase enthusiasm and this spilled over into the defence line as well, Wests consistently rushing up in the face of the Dragons and bustling them. The heavy trial game loss to the Gold Coast Titans might have been the big wake up call the Tigers needed – as they came out playing for their lives. Todd Payten was particularly busy, getting through big chunks of work and was at his crafty best laying on offloads, hit and spins and desperation in defence and scrums.
For the Dragons, they were lucky it wasn’t 40 points that were put on them. Several times, they only just hung on as the flood gates were about to open. Jamie Soward the two Chase boys; Rangi and Stanley were lone rangers as the Saints forwards probably didn’t give them enough metres up front. When Jason Ryles tucked the ball under his wing running hard and straight he usually succeeded; however he seemed too intent on pre-meditating an offload or even kicking in some situations when it wasn’t on.
The Dragons game plan obviously involved attacking the Tigers right hand edge, specifically targeting Peni Tagive who not only passed the test in the air but was totally sound on the ground as Matt Cooper failed several times to get on the outside of his man. When St George Illawarra switched the play and attacked on Gasniers wing, they found the Tigers wanting and scored at the first opportunity – but for some reason, they didn’t send any more traffic down that edge. Mark Gasnier only touching the ball twice in the second half and that was from his own ambitious dummy half assistance.
A fitter, leaner Corey Payne was performing well for the Wests Tigers and naturally wanting to get one up against his old team. He remained busy and gave the Tigers good thrust in the middle. The architect of the Wests Tigers success was that man Robbie Farah, we were originally concerned he may have been carrying an injury after the Titans trial game or was possibly a yard short of fitness – but he really came good today, regularly probing, taking the right options and keeping the Dragons guessing in defence – which gave Farah’s players so much time.
Soward was the man most likely to get the Dragons out of jail in this match. Continually crafty and having to do more on his own due to the lack of platform from the forwards; he remained busy and got the Dragons on the board after a smart switch play from Matt Cooper who drew several Tigers defenders on their right hand edge but threw the ball back in centre field for Soward to run through unmarked as the Tigers were guilty of over committing to the edges.
Soward continued to work hard to get his team back into the match, as did the Chase men – Kirk Reynoldson put his hand up in the forwards and as a good reward, got a hot try off the back of a Rangi Chase move where he dummied and ran 2 or 3 times to find a flying angle running Reynoldson who ran in from 15m out untouched.
All of a sudden it was possibly game on. Saints had eaten away at the Tigers nice lead and Wests were probably guilty of getting a touch jittery on occasion. As the game hung in the balance for a few sets, the new boy for the Tigers Tim Moltzen was really putting his hand up. Looking very comfortable in the top grade, the debutant getting himself a try late in the match and certainly making Tim Sheens sit up and take notice of him for future starts.
As the Dragons looked their final chance right in the face, they fell over again. Constantly standing flat footed in attack, refusing to attack the side where they had all the success and then compounding it with a forward pass from dummy half. It really was crazy stuff. I think the thing with the Dragons is; they have such an array of naturally gifted talent but they lack a side controlling, experienced figure that has the personality to dominate and keep his team on the straight and narrow. I think they have lacked this kind of person since Barrett left and it continues to haunt them.
As Phil Gould cursed them and willed them home at the same time; even suggesting the Dragons were a hot tip on BetFair even with them being 14 points in arrears – the miracle was never going to happen today and you’ve really got to feel Nathan Browns pain.
The Dragons committing suicide and the Wests Tigers playing well enough to take advantage of their mistakes and get over the line for their first NRL Results of the 2008 NRL Season.
Play by Play:
7 min; Liam Fulton goes into score for the Wests Tigers off a nicely directed John Morris kick.
14min; Mark Gasnier stepping beautifully, weaves and shimmies – beating 4 Wests Tigers defenders from around 15m out to score a top solo try. Classic Gasnier.
17min; Tigers hit back quickly. Chris Lawrence the try scorer running hard and fast onto a very slick John Morris 2 man cut out ball. A very Ricky Stuart like spiral cut out pass it was, setting up Lawrence to score on the Saints right hand edge defence.
24min; All Robbie Farah. The classy hooker, back to his scheming best today. Runs from dummy half, shows it, dummies and goes alone to score. Ben Creagh left in his wake not even looking in the right direction.
51min; Tim Moltzen scores on debut for the Wests Tigers. Getting his hand to a smart little Robbie Farah grubber kick, well positioned that found the Dragons wanting – lazy in defence or simply poor positional play again.
56min; Jamie Soward in to score for the Dragons. Certainly deserved this try – had been trying all day. Looked eager and was on the end of some of Matt Coopers tidy work out wide, as Coops drew in plenty of Wests players and switched the ball long and back to centre field. Soward galloping into big space to score from 7 metres.
69min; Kirk Reynoldon a.k.a ‘Man from Snowy River’ or ‘Bush Tucker man’ as his beard is back in place – steam rolled through a gap off a hot Rangi Chase pass, after Chase did a Benji Marshall/Scott Prince style dummy and go, dummy and go, release. The short hip pass hitting Reynoldson on the chest and no one was ever going to stop this try. Saints got a sniff here, but weren’t good enough to go on with it.
Final Score; 24-16