An Origin-depleted Penrith Panthers have finally succumbed to their first loss of the season, unable to stem the attack of a determined Wests Tigers who pulled off a 26-6 victory over the Premiership favourites.
Missing a host of players due to the State of Origin, this match would always prove difficult for the men from the foot of the mountains.
Despite the missing experience, the Panthers were still favourites to extend their winning streak to 13 games.
The Tigers, on the other hand, knew that this was simply a must-win game considering the advantage of their starting 17.
Despite the Panthers’ missing stars, there was plenty riding on this game, as former coach Ivan Cleary (son Nathan in tow) returned to Leichardt Oval and a baying ocean of unforgiving Tigers fans, still furious at his abrupt departure from the joint venture.
Former Panthers James Tamou, James Roberts and off-season recruit Daine Laurie only added to the fire.
Almost as might be scripted, it was the fullback Daine Laurie who opened the scoring in the 14th minute, continuing his red-hot run of form while showing his old team what they were missing.
In a further turn of fate, it was returning custodian Dylan Edwards who had an unhappy night for Penrith.
Towards the end of the first half, with a rare attacking opportunity in the Tigers 20m zone, Edwards attempted a grubber that fell right into the arms of Jacob Liddle.
Somehow, he managed to outpace the entire Panthers squad over 90 metres and plant the ball down at the opposite end.
Entering the sheds ahead by two tries, the Tigers would have been happy with the result of a nervy first half, aware that the Panthers would be desperate to fight back in the 2nd half and keep their remarkable winning streak alive.
10 minutes into the return and Matt Burton threw an almighty dummy from 12 metres out before pouncing to bring the game to within touching distance for Penrith.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs-bound Burton, it was one of the few standout moments he had.
Given the reigns of the team in the 6 jersey alongside fellow fill-in Tyrone May, the five-eighth was unable to help steer his team effectively.
Unsurprisingly, the Panthers at times seemed lost, giving away penalties and making errors that could not be made up for as they usually might.
The frustration of the Panthers and the pride of the Tigers culminated in moments of fireworks.
Daine Laurie, tackled in the air by Kikau suddenly found himself face-to-face with James Roberts, the considerably shorter winger unwilling to take a backwards step from the Panthers big man.
Not long after and Luciano Leilua was awarded a penalty try from a head-high tackle.
Steaming on to a tapped back ball, Leilua dived to score and was caught by Robert Jennings across the chin, the ball lost.
Panthers fans may have felt the referee decisions seemed stacked against them but simple poor discipline and frustration surely played their role.
Led by a fruitful Luke Brooks and a rampaging Alex Twal, the Tigers were able to effectively hold out the Panthers for the rest of the game, a late try to Utoikamanu sealing the win in the 76th minute.
The Tigers had to win this game and they did win this game. There is not much more to say about their performance really.
As mentioned, Alex Twal put up remarkable stats and Daine Laurie was certainly determined against his old club.
Moses Mbye was again serviceable in the five-eighth role but it still feels as if Adam Douehi is wasted in the centres. James Roberts on the wing is an ongoing process but it appears a good move.
Penrith will be disappointed, if unsurprised, to be served their first loss of the season (who had their first loss coming against the Tigers?).
Bulldogs fans might be nervous having glimpsed what a Burton team might look like. Tyrone May was ineffective in the halves role and the forwards lacked their usual spark and, indeed, effort.
Viliame Kikau had a performance that will leave Coach Cleary unhappy.
Missing so many players though, the Panthers will simply have to move on and get back to their feet next Friday against the Sharks.
Wests Tigers 26 (Laurie, Liddle, Leilua, Utoikamanu) def Penrith Panthers 6 (Burton)
Doueihi – 3/4
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Daine Laurie (WST)
2 Points – Luke Brooks (WST)
1 Point – Alex Twal (WST)