It was a try-a-thon today in Newcastle, with the Wests Tigers and Knights going try for try – the Tigers eventually getting the late jump to stitch up the away win 38-26 at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
The Tigers had the luxury of throwing Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Matt Head into the same side and it was coach Tim Sheens who was trying to determine the best makeup to lead his team through to the end of 2008. Benji was solid without being brilliant, the returning pivot scoring points but at times letting his side down with his scratchy defence.
With Round 10 of the NRL almost finished, you would have to agree that realistically 5 teams are shooting it out in general premiership contention. Storm, Manly, Roosters, Titans and Brisbane are the genuine heavy-weights but looking at the remaining teams; Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks are two dark horses that could put up an almighty fight.
Keith Galloway was easily the best for the Wests Tigers today, the ever improving forward continues to punch out the metres and has incorporated a quality off-load into his game that helped the Tigers gain the upper hand.
The returning Marshall did his bit, nabbed 2 tries, nailed a 40-20 kick leading to a try, and was confident and only lacking a bit of timing in his passing and defence as he returned to the scene in front of 20,154 local fans.
Newcastle did hold a narrow lead 22-16 only minutes after 1/2 time, but Marshall then had a dazzling period – putting on 4 touchdowns for Wests in a 15 minute period to allow his side to skip away to a match-winning lead.
Newcastle to their credit hung in and put on a breath-taking 70-metre try finished by Cooper Vuna in the 70th minute, but with a missed conversion and time running out – it was always going to be a tough ask. Cooper Vuna remains a stand-out for the Knights, the improving winger continues to bulk up and has cut the simple errors from his game. Still possessing blinding speed, yet filling in as a forward when times are tough – this guy looks to have really grown under Brian Smith and would easily make the Kiwi side on current form.
UK Super League bound Brett Hodgson did his bit in the first half, recovering from a sickening blow after Cooper Vuna smashed him into next week twice in the space of 5 minutes and braving a dislocated finger to score 2 crafty tries early on.
Newcastle pivot Chris Bailey also matched Hodgson try for try in the early minutes, the talented Knights five-eight scoring 3 tries as the half-time scored was locked at 16-all.
Marshall, who was playing just his third game of the season, produced an individual highlight reel when he scored a 50-metre solo try in the 57th minute to give the Tigers a lead they never surrendered.
The New Zealand international darted into a massive gap and then casually ran around Newcastle full-back Wes Naiqama even though he clearly lacked his usual pace following his recent knee injury.
The Tigers were also boosted by the return of Robbie Farah, after the hooker had missed seven weeks with a back injury.