Round 4 of the NRL saw the Wests Tigers travel to Canberra to take on the Raiders who were struggling with 1 win from 3 games and coming off a poor performance against the Gold Coast Titans. For the Tigers the key word all week was consistency as they were coming off a strong win over the Eels and looking to consolidate with the tough road trip to the Nations capital. The Tigers welcomed back Liam Fulton for today’s match despite several players having injury clouds over their heads and they ran out 1-17 as named. Could the Tigers win back-to-back for the first time this season?
Things began poorly for the Tigers as the Raiders started smartly and dominated early field position and ball possession. The Tigers struggled to match the Raiders and were alarmingly falling off tackles after only a matter of minutes, which is all it took for the Raiders to score their first try through huge prop Dane Tilse on the back of a good break made by the fullback Dugan. Campese converted and it was 6-0 to the Raiders early on.
Canberra continued to enjoy the early possession as the Tigers made mistakes when they did have the ball and this resulted in the big Raiders pack steamrolling the Tigers before they crossed for their second try of the afternoon through Jarod Croker in the 15th minute after he brushed off Blake Ayshford in a 25 metre run to the line. Campese missed the conversion however things were not looking good for the Tigers as they were burning up a lot of petrol early on in defence. This trend continued as the Tigers helped the Raiders through a combination of mistakes and penalties which resulted in the Raiders scoring a third try through Shaun Fensom in the 19th minute. Campese added the extras to take the Raiders out to a very handy 16-0 lead after 20 minutes.
The Tigers finally got on the scoreboard through Liam Fulton in the 29th minute after Robbie Farah and Bryce Gibbs both went close to scoring minutes earlier and Gareth Ellis was ruled held up over the line. The ball went through the hands of Moltzen and Heighington who popped up a nice short ball for Fulton to hit a gap before Fulton broke a tackle and crossed close to the posts. Unfortunately Marshall appeared to leave his goalkicking boots at home once again as he missed the relatively easy conversion to leave the Tigers trailing 16-4.
The appeared shortlived however as the Raiders extended their lead minutes later through Joe Picker as Gareth Ellis tried in vain to hold him up over the line as the Tigers middle opened up once again. Campese made light work of the conversion to extend the Raiders lead to 22-4. With literally 20 seconds remaining until halftime the Raiders were attacking the Tigers blindside before a pass went to ground 30 metres out from the Tigers line. Lote Tuqiri promptly picked the ball up and raced 50 metres down field before offloading to Marshall who turned the chasers inside out and crossed in the corner. It was brilliant counter-attacking football which showed what the Tigers could do if only they could hold the ball. To the bewilderment of many Tiger fans, Benji landed the sideline conversion with ease to leave the Tigers trailing 22-10 at halftime.
The stats heavily favoured the Raiders in terms of possession, field position, mistake rate and missed tackles, with the Tigers missing a whopping 22 tackles in the first half as the Raiders worked them over. One thing was certain, if the Tigers could manage to swing the possession ratio, they had the firepower to thump the Raiders if they played smart football.
An early mistake from the Tigers was not what they were looking for as they gave the Raiders good early field position. The Raiders fortunately came up with a poor last tackle kick. A strong run from Tuqiri on the Tigers next set was also brought undone by Todd Payten as he threw a speculative pass for Tuqiri which went over the sideline. The Tigers didn’t help their cause by giving away a penalty shortly afterwards which gave the Raiders great field position. Bronson Harrison gave the Tigers some brief respite by dropping the ball 10 out from the Tigers line.
The Raiders David Shillington forced a mistake from the Tigers Keith Galloway on the next set after Galloway copped a massive shoulder charge from Shillington, however some poor last tackle options from the Raiders kept the Tigers hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Mistakes were starting to creep into the Raiders game however the Tigers were still making errors themselves.
All this would start to change in the 50th minute though, as the Wests Tigers cut loose through captain Robbie Farah as the Tigers were getting belted on their own tryline. After Beau Ryan and Lote Tuqiri were both crunched the Tigers spread the ball to the right before Farah threw a cut out pass to winger Mitch Brown who raced 50 metres downfield before offloading to Tim Moltzen who threw an inside pass which came off a Raiders player straight into the arms of Farah in support. Farah then skipped out of 1 tackle and raced 35 metres to score under the posts to cap a brilliant length of the field try. Benji made no mistake with the conversion to bridge the gap to 22-16 with 29 minutes remaining.
A solid no-nonsense set of 6 from the re-start saw the Tigers forcing Canberra to work the ball out from their own end as the Tigers all of a sudden seemed to find the direction they were so sorely lacking in the first half. The Raiders had not locked up the shop for the day yet and continued to hit the Tigers up the ruck and bending them back. The Tigers scrambling defence was now working though as they rushed the Raiders when they were defending their own line and the Raiders continued to make mistakes as a result. In the 59th minute a Tigers hand got in the way of the ball which gave Canberra some good field position and many Tigers fans sitting on the edge of their seats. Frustration came to the fore moments later as the Tigers were penalised which gave Canberra a shot at goal in reasonable position. Campese surprisingly missed the kick and the Tigers were able to come away with the ball without any further damage done. A good quick play the ball from Andrew Fifita saw the Tigers receive a much needed penalty and go on the attack in the Raiders half.
A fine grubber kick from Marshall saw the Raiders pinned in their own in-goal as the tide of the match was turning with the possession now evening out and the Tigers superior fitness levels starting to show. The Raiders kicked deep from the drop out but the Tigers forwards were now hitting the line at speed with Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita both looking strong. The Tigers received 6 more tackles from a Canberra mistake and made them pay through centre Chris Lawrence in the 65th minute as he hit a beautiful gap from a Marshall pass at pace to bring the ball around close to the posts. Marshall made no mistake with the conversion to level the scores at 22 all.
Lawrence was it again moments later as he broke into the clear and pinned his ears back after a great run and offload from Fifita put Liam Fulton into a hole who in turn found Lawrence. Lawrence took on Dugan as he was shown the sideline however Dugan was up to the task and put Lawrence into touch with a great try saver. The danger signs were there for the Raiders though as the Tigers speed and skill was now testing them all over the field. A good set of 6 from the Tigers in the 70th minute which started from a great run from fullback Beau Ryan saw the Tigers end the set inside the Raiders half. Robbie Farah saw his moment and calmly slotted a 35 metre field goal to put the Tigers in front for the first time during the match.
A penalty from the re-start helped the Tigers get out of their own half however a run around play between Moltzen and Fulton let the Raiders off the hook temporarily as the ball was fumbled and travelled forward. The Tigers defence was up to the task though as the tackles were sticking and the Raiders were wilting late in the game. A Tigers penalty in the 76th minute right in front of the posts looked set for a penalty kick however Benji Marshall backed himself and took the tap, and seconds later he threw a lovely short ball for Liam Fulton to cross untouched for his second try of the afternoon. Benji made no mistake with the kick in front and the Tigers now led 29-22.
Campese attempted a short kick off however the ball went over the sideline on the full which gave the Tigers a penalty on halfway. Marshall surprisingly went for goal and it fell well short which allowed the Raiders to counter-attack down their left side of the field. They put in a kick downfield which was fielded by Marshall 40 metres out from the Tigers line and then he promptly stepped out of one tackle before offloading to Tim Moltzen who set off downfield as the fulltime siren sounded, Moltzen then offloaded to Beau Ryan who raced through a hole and set sail for the tryline. Ryan who was more worried about the chaser from behind did not see a Raiders player come across from the side in cover to put a massive shoulder charge on Beau just as he crossed the tryline. The ball jolted loose however the replay showed Ryan grounding the ball for a well deserved try. Benji landed the conversion to give the Tigers a remarkable 35-22 victory after they looked dead and buried at 22-4 later in the first half.
For the second time this season the Tigers showed remarkable grit to come back from a seemingly hopeless position to snatch victory from the Raiders who must still be wondering how they managed to lose.
Onto the players:
1. Beau Ryan - Proved that last week was no fluke at fullback as Beau proved safe at the back once again when defending kicks with solid no nonsense kick returns. 3 missed tackles was the lowlight of the match for him, but he really had a strong second half and ran for 207 metres, cracking the magical 200 metre mark for a second week in a row. Stats show he didn’t come up with any linebreaks but I counted at least one from a kick return in the second half, plus his good run to the line on fulltime when he scored. There is some learning for him to do at the back, but his involvement rate is high, he returns the ball well and generally positions himself well. 207 metres in attack, 1 try, 1 linebreak, 3 missed tackles.
2. Lote Tuqiri - No tries this week but another strong game from Tuqiri as he once again proved handful given any room to move. Had some strong runs despite being belted once or twice, however Lote is no mug and just kept plowing away. Did very well in setting up the Marshall try and apart from 1 error he was once again strong. 181 metres in attack, 4 tackle breaks and 1 try assist.
3. Blake Ayshford - Not one of his better games I have to say. Blake was beaten a couple of times in the first half and Jarod Croker had the better of him in the first half. Blake didn’t receive any quality ball today either which hurt his overall performance although he did pick his defence up in the second half. 85 metres in attack, 15 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 1 error, 1 offload, 2 penalties conceded.
4. Chris Lawrence - Didn’t notice him in the first half as the Tigers had little ball, and none of it found Lawrence, defensively he came up with a couple of bad misses. The second half was a different story as Lawrence finally came to life and didn’t disappoint with a try to level the match and a great run moments later. Defensively it was a mixed bag with 3 missed tackles and 20 tackles but Lawrence certainly showed his class when it mattered. Still room for improvement though. 96 metres in attack, 20 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 2 linebreaks, 4 tackle breaks, 1 error, 2 penalties conceded.
5. Mitch Brown - Fairly safe and sound as he wasn’t required to do a lot in defence however he came up with a good linebreak after Farah put him in the clear and he showed good enough pace to set sail down the sideline. Not much else to be said except to say Mitch easily held his own today and was solid. 118 metres in attack, 1 linebreak.
6. Benji Marshall - Suffice to say his first half was not great due to the Tigers forwards having zero impact. Benji came up with 3 errors including one terrible drop ball for no real reason, however he’s also smart enough to position himself well and scored a fine try after the Tuqiri intercept right on halftime. Had a good second half as the Tigers forwards got into the match and the possession evened out. Came up with 2 try assists for Lawrence and Fulton and also kicked well after missing his first kick of the day. Dangerous once again and one of the Tigers best. 46 metres in attack, 1 try, 5 goals, 12 tackles and 3 errors.
7. Tim Moltzen - Like Marshall I hardly noticed him in the first half but he was more prominent in the second half. Still fairly quiet I thought, whether it was due to the stomach injury he carried into the game I don’t know, but Tim is capable of better. I wouldn’t say he is heads and shoulders above Lui but he was ok today without being great. 56 metres in attack, 1 try assist for Ryan, 2 linebreak assists and 14 tackles.
8. Bryce Gibbs - Quiet first half as the Tigers were starved of possession but he had a very strong second half with some good hard runs and really helped get the Tigers on the front foot. Leading metre eater amongst the pack today behind Farah and apart from 3 missed tackles, Bryce was very strong. Outplayed Galloway today too. 133 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 20 tackles and 3 missed tackles.
9. Robbie Farah - Had his best game of the season so far and was channel 9 MOM. Scored 1 try and almost had another and was a constant threat to the Raiders today. Led by example and finding form at the right time with the rep season slowly approaching. 165 metres in attack, 1 try, 1 field goal, 2 errors, 1 linebreak, 1 linebreak assist, 2 offloads, 6 tackle breaks and 29 tackles.
10. Keith Galloway - Not his best game today and was outplayed by Gibbs and especially Shillington who caught him with a cracker of a shoulder charge. It didn’t really rattle big Keith, but the Raiders certainly paid him plenty of attention after his recent strong efforts. 70 metres in attack, 24 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 2 offloads.
11. Todd Payten - Pretty quiet overall. Payten isn’t the workhorse that Heighno and Ellis are, and he isn’t a metre eater like Galloway and Gibbs. The way today’s match unfolded didn’t really suit him as a result but it was only his second game of the year. I do think he would be better served coming off the bench while Fulton starts. Let’s see if this changes for next week. 72 metres in attack, 23 tackles, 4 missed tackles and 2 errors.
12. Gareth Ellis - Quiet compared to last week although still solid. Takes 3 defenders with him each time he runs the ball although his defence was a bit shaky in the first half. 97 metres in attack, 29 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 1 error and 1 penalty conceeded.
13. Chris Heighington - Not his best game today as the Raiders contained him easy in the first half, and he was rested in the second half when the Tigers started running riot over the Raiders. No doubt he would have picked up some good metres here as Flanagan did, but it’s good to see Sheens give Heighno a break. Got through plenty of defence in the first half too. 81 metres in attack, 1 try assist, 1 error, 29 tackles.
14. Andrew Fifita - Was rated by Tigers officials as the 5th best prop at the club in the pre-season. He’s easily the 3rd best now and offered very good impact off the bench today with some hard running and good offloading. Pretty mobile for his size and looking every bit the first grader at the moment. Also defended well today which was also pleasing. Hard to bring to ground too, he is very strong and broke some tackles. 78 metres in attack from 27 minutes, 19 tackles, 6 tackle breaks and 1 offload.
15. Liam Fulton - Didn’t make a whole heap of metres with the ball in hand, but what he did to today was quality and he knows how to hit a hole. I’d have him starting ahead of Payten as I feel it would better suit the Tigers bench structure, plus Liam can play big minutes without any fuss. Very good game. 51 metres in attack, 29 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 5 tackle breaks, 2 tries, 2 linebreaks, 1 error and 1 linebreak assist.
16. Mark Flanagan - Only played 18 minutes today, replacing Heighington but once again he looked good out there and is definitely one of the fitter players running around. Picked up 52 metres in attack and only had to make 4 tackles as the Tigers ran over the top of the Raiders.
17. Daniel Fitzhenry - Poor bloke sat on the bench the whole game.
The Tigers scored some great tries once again today, they have no trouble entertaining the crowd at all. It was bleak situation in the first half with the Tigers completion rate down and the Raiders enjoying majority possession, but when the Tigers did hold the ball, they looked threatening. Once again they showed that they are the most lethal counter-attacking side in the competition as evidenced by tries to Marshall and Ryan, both of which came against the run of play when the Raiders were attacking.
The length of the field try to Farah was pure Tigers attacking brilliance and the tries to Fulton (2) and Lawrence showed off the Tigers short passing and hole running close to the line. In the second half the Tigers forwards finally got a foothold on the game and played more direct, through the ruck with Gibbs and Fifita the most damaging and Farah coming into his own.
In the backs, Benji came good in the second half after coming up with some errors in the first half. He was instrumental in Lawrence’s and Fulton’s second half tries. Ryan was very good at fullback getting over the magical 200 metre mark for the second week in a row which was very pleasing. Lote Tuqiri was also very strong and Chris Lawrence had a couple of very good touches in the second half.
The Tigers leaked 22 point in a very disappointing first half as the Raiders ran rough-shod over them. While the Raiders enjoyed the majority of possession, the Tigers did themselves no favours by missing 22 tackles. Compare this with 8 tackles missed in the second half and zero points conceeded. It really was a tale of two halves and while this is a well worn cliche, the Tigers can ill afford to miss 22 tackles in every half of football they play. Fortunately they didn’t panic and stuck to the gameplan and were able to dig their way out of it in the second half.
Notable defenders in Payten, Gibbs, Ellis, Lawrence and Ayshford all missed plenty of tackles today which they will not be happy with on a personal level and hopefully they all improve their defence for next week’s road trip to Townsville.
Pretty poor. The best kick I saw came from Marshall in the second half when the Tigers forced a line drop out. Otherwise they kicked down the throat of Dugan too often and he made them pay with plenty of dangerous kick returns. The kicking game is probably the most inconsistent part of the Tigers game as Farah and Marshall, and to a lesser extent Moltzen generally fail to be consistent in applying pressure through kicks. This is definitely an aread of the Tigers game which needs work if they are to trouble the top sides in the competition.
I will start by saying it was a fantastic comeback by the Tigers. Down 22-4 after 39 minutes, one could be forgiven for thinking the worst. However once again the Tigers showed they can score a try even against the run of play. Defesively there is no doubt the first half was poor as Canberra got out of the blocks quick while the Tigers struggled to realise what had hit them.
The second half was a different story as the possession swung and so did the momentum as the Tigers forwards finally started going forward. However only Farah and Gibbs made over 100 metres in attack. Fifita and Flanagan were both good off the bench and Liam Fulton showed several touches of class. The Tigers were led well by Farah who was followed by Marshall, Ryan, Tuqiri, Gibbs, Fifita and Fulton who were all impressive.
There is still work to be done, but the Tigers are showing a never-say-die attitude and even when things were going against them and they were making mistakes, they didn’t throw in the towel and just kept going as best they could. In the end their superior class, and fitness shone through.
Team stats (Raiders in brackets):
Possession: 49% (51%)
Total runs: 155 (159)
Total metres: 1588 (1398)
Line breaks: 10 (8)
Try Assists: 6 (3)
Offloads: 7 (11)
Tackles made: 274 (277)
1 on 1 tackles: 26 (17)
Missed tackles: 30 (35)
Tackle breaks: 39 (33)
Kick metres: 419 (512)
Errors: 12 (11)
Penalties conceded: 7 (8)
No doubt about it, the Tigers are proving the comeback kings of the NRL so far although I hope they do not make a habit of this. Admittedly the Raiders were pretty good in the first half however the Tigers mised tackles did not help. Fortunately the 25-0 scoreline and stiffer defence proved what the Tigers can do when they hold the ball and play to their strengths.
Next week is another road trip, this time to the tropics of Townsville as they take on the Cowboys who were impressive in rolling the undefeated Gold Coast Titans. Jonathon Thurston is also in good form so the Tigers will want to make sure they do not give up a 22-4 lead to the Cowboys. Hopefully we see a more complete team performance, but for now, the Tigers will settle for the two points and work hard at training during the week on their defensive lapses no doubt. Today was a great comeback though. :sign: