Tigers pip Warriors in incredible contest
Sat 05 Mar, 2016, 7:30pm
By Martin Gabor, National Correspondent, NRL.com
The Wests Tigers have survived a monumental comeback to see off the Warriors 34-26 at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night.
The loss condemned the visitors to their seventh straight opening-round loss, with the defeat further soured by a potential dislocated kneecap to Ben Henry in what was his first game back from a season-ending ACL injury.
Mitch Moses produced his best performance in first grade, playing a hand in three of his side’s six tries and controlling the match like a seasoned veteran in the absence of regular halves partner Luke Brooks.
The Tigers settled the better after a comedy of errors to start the game with Moses finding a hard-running Curtis Sironen to score Wests’ first points of the season.
The hosts had sprung a surprise before kickoff, bringing Kyle Lovett into the starting side for Manaia Cherrington, with Jack Littlejohn shifting to dummy-half. Jason Taylor’s gamble paid dividends with Lovett scoring the game’s second try from a magical Chris Lawrence offload.
Moses was at it again minutes later finding an unmarked David Nofoaluma to cross for the side’s third in the opening quarter of the game.
The winger then almost turned provider, finding space down the right before kicking back in field for Kevin Naiqama to dot down, only for the men in the Bunker to find a little knock on from Lovett in the lead-up.
The Warriors took full advantage of the let-off, scoring through left centre Solomone Kata after Nofoaluma put down a relatively simple Shaun Johnson kick.
An entertaining first half took on new meaning just before the half-hour mark, with the Tigers putting in an early candidate for try of the year.
It started with a Moses banana kick to Tedesco, with the fullback offloading to big Tim Grant who did brilliantly to pick up the bouncing ball, before quick hands found Naiqama on the right, who grubbered back infield for Tedesco to gather and score.
The Warriors would have been happy to go into half-time down 22-4, but they wouldn’t be so lucky with the Tigers scoring the second best try of the season so far a minute before the break.
A shift from five metres out ended up with Naiqama, who drew in three defenders before linking up with fellow centre Tim Simona who torched Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to cap off the Tigers’ best ever opening 40 minutes at the venue.
Whatever Andrew McFadden said at half-time took a little bit of time to sink in with a Manu Vatuvei error almost leading to what should have been an easy four pointer.
But led by Shaun Johnson, the Warriors came to life after that, scoring three tries in eight minutes to narrow the margin to just two points with 13 minutes to play.
The mercurial playmaker set up the first try of the second stanza, hitting former skipper Simon Mannering with a flat ball close to the line.
The Warriors looked destined to score again with Tuivasa-Sheck making a surging run down field, only for Simona to reel in the new NZ fullback.
One play later they did find the line, with interchange forward Bodene Thompson exploiting a huge overlap to cross out wide.
The Campbelltown faithful must have been nervous with the visitors scoring two more tries in the space of two minutes to draw themselves within a conversion.
Johnson scored the first, stepping his way through some tiring defenders to cross under the sticks, before an expansive shift from their own half finished with Kata touching down for his second of the night.
Johnson tried desperately to snatch the unlikeliest of victories at the death, but a desperate chip and chase went horribly wrong as James Tedesco raced 50 metres to seal the heart-stopping win.
The Warriors will head into next week wondering what could have been, while the Tigers will be aiming to make it two wins on the trot when they take on Manly at Leichhardt Oval in Monday night footy.