You could feel it from the opening minutes of play.
The young, enthusiastic Wests Tigers team, playing in front of a big crowd on their spiritual home turf, brought down premiers North Queensland with a wonderful 80 minutes of rugby league.
There was no fluke in this victory. The Cowboys didn’t play badly, they could only play as well as their opposition allowed.
The Tigers were simply superb. Quality football. Supreme team effort. Every player contributed all they could give.
When they get it right, there is an energy about this team that is very difficult for opponents to match, let alone contain.
We all know they can be brilliant with the ball in hand. They have skill, flair and speed to burn.
However, if they were going to cause the big upset against the Cowboys in this one, their defence had to stand up to the toughest examination this game has to offer. The full-strength Cowboys, with champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston at the helm, have been consistently destroying defensive lines for almost 18 months. They had more than enough quality possession at the Tigers’ end of the field to conjure up some tries if they were good enough. Their left-hand side is the most lethal attacking combination in the NRL. They have a vast repertoire of patterns and plays designed to punish pretty much any defensive system. Throughout the year, the Tigers’ right-side defenders, have experienced difficulties dealing with sustained attack coming their way. It was obvious from early in the contest this is where the game would be won and lost for both sides.
The Cowboys were obsessed in running the majority of their attacking plays at this part of the field. If anything, they looked a little complacent about their prospects. They really weren’t prepared for what the Tigers were about to do.
In recent times the Tigers have resorted to a fast moving, up-an-in, rushing style of defence. They attack with their defence. They sprint up quickly putting immense pressure on playmakers. It can be a bit hit-and-miss, but they have convinced themselves this style is their chance of busting and containing other teams.
Time and time again the Cowboys set up the play to attack the right-side defenders. Time and time again the young Tigers came up with the big defensive reads and cut them down before the play got started. They forced a number of errors from the normally composed Cowboy playmakers. The longer the game went, the easier it seemed to get for the Tigers.
It took the Cowboys almost an hour to admit defeat and look for a Plan B. By this time the Tigers had a handy lead, their tails were in the air, confidence and self belief were high, the big home crowd was right behind them and the upset was well and truly on the cards. The Cowboys managed to come up with a try on the other side of the field late in the piece to reduce the deficit to six and give themselves a fluker’s chance of a grandstand finish. However, the Leichhardt Oval football gods has seen enough. They were going to let the home side let this one slip away.
The Tigers slammed an exclamation mark on the victory by having their outstanding fullback James Tedesco score an amazing individual’s try right alongside the posts in the 80th minute to send their loyal fans into raptures and dance their way down those narrow Leichhardt streets on their way home.
The Cowboys will probably deny it, but they were guilty of underestimating their opponents. They probably anticipated the Tigers would be full of energy early in the game and they decided the best way to deal with this would be to simply wait for the onslaught to subside. It never did.
The Tigers were relentless for the full 80 minutes. The Cowboys never really matched their energy at any stage. It happens.
However, it would be totally unfair on the Tigers for anyone to suggest the Cowboys were below their best. The Tigers won because they produced their own personal best and the Cowboys just couldn’t deal with it on the day.