Round 6 of the Telstra NRL premiership saw the Wests Tigers return to the SFS to take on the Bulldogs who had been disappointing so far in season 2010 and were looking to make amends against an injury depleted, although high flying Wests Tigers who shared the competition lead. The Tigers entered this match without established first grade players Keith Galloway and Todd Payten while interchange player Alan Schirnack was replaced by Willie Mataka. This game would also mark the debut of Tigers halfback Blake Lazarus, nephew of former Test front rower Glenn Lazarus. The Bulldogs were smarting after a last minute loss to the NZ Warriors while the Tigers needed to back up after two tough road trips.
Just who would emerge victorious tonight…
The Tigers kicked off and got away to a safe start as both sides felt each other out early. The Bulldogs were the first to make a mistake in the 5th minute while attacking inside the Tigers half. The Tigers repaid the favour moments later as Beau Ryan was ruled to have made a mistake playing the ball with the Tigers looking to get a roll on. Ryan made amends on the next set as he came up with a try saver on a runaway Andrew Ryan. The Tigers scrambled well and were awarded a penalty however failed to find touch. The Bulldogs last tackle grubber kick just managed to go dead giving the Tigers a 20 metre re-start.
The Bulldogs were awarded a penalty in the 11th minute allowing them to go on the attack inside the Tigers half. The Bulldogs were then given 6 more tackles as a kick was ruled to have been played at by a Tigers player. The Tigers scramble defence was excellent as the Bulldogs threatened several times and they were able to come away with a 20 metre re-start. Junior Moors replaced prop Andrew Fifita in the 15th minute. Bryce Gibbs came up with a cracker of a tackle in the 17th minute only to lay on the player too long and give away a penalty. The Tigers defence once again held firm but the Bulldogs were awarded another penalty from a play the ball infringement putting them right back on the attack. The Bulldogs kick was poor while it was a testament to the Tigers defence.
The Bulldogs came up with a mistake in the 21st minute giving the Tigers their best field position for the match so far. The Tigers kicked on the first play as Benji Marshall screamed down the sideline to win the race for the ball, only to get a bad bounce but the Bulldogs knocked the ball giving the Tigers another chance in better field position. Robbie Farah lost the ball on the 3rd tackle letting the Bulldogs off the hook. In the 25th minute the Tigers made a mistake deep in their own half which gave the Bulldogs a great chance to attack the Tigers line. Again the Tigers defence held resulting in a 20 metre re-start. Tigers centre Chris Lawrence was the next Tiger to lose the ball as they struggled to control the ball after spending most of the match defending. Again the Tigers defence held which resulted in a brilliant tackle by Blake Lazarus on Josh Morris while Daniel Fitzhenry was down injured in backplay.
The Tigers had a horrible decision go against them in the 31st minute as Beau Ryan was taken out without the ball but but they dug deep and drove Josh Morris touch in-goal. A great run by Lote Tuqiri was undone by Gareth Ellis obstructing the Bulldogs giving the Bulldogs yet another set inside the Tigers half. The Bulldogs looked to finally score in the 35th minute through a cross field bomb as Jamal Idris managed to block Lote Tuqiri and bat the ball sideways to Michael Ennis to score untouched. It was a cruel way to concede a try as the Tigers defence had been brilliant to this point. The try was converted to give the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead on the back of 63% possession.
The Tigers finished the first half attacking the Bulldogs line but went to the sheds down 6-0. It was a couragous defensive performance on the back of some terrible refereeing. Just how much petrol it took out of the Tigers was the big question.
The Tigers received the ball from the kick off and got away to a safe start. Some attacking play early on from Farah and Marshall was a good sign for the Tigers as possession was even for the first few minutes. Lote Tuqiri came up with a good urn in the 45th minute as the Tigers tried to turn the Bulldogs around however the Dogs counter-attacked brilliantly through Bryson Goodwin and crossing through Luke Patten in the 48th minute to break the Tigers hearts as their defence started to look tired. Goodwin converted the try to extend the lead to 12-0 and leaving the Tigers a lot of work to do. The Bulldogs looked a lot more dangerous from the re-start as the Tigers started to fall off tackles however the Bulldogs dropped the ball while attacking inside the Tigers half.
The Tigers looked threatening in the 50th minute however a last tackle grubber from Marshall just went into touch with Benji hot in pursuit. A brilliant 40/20 from Robbie Farah in the 52nd minute gave the Tigers their best chance of the second half. The Tigers were awarded a penalty from the scrum win however Blake Ayshford lost the ball while on the attack. The Bulldogs went close to scoring in the 55th minute but luckily for the Tigers they lost the ball late in the tackle count. A lost ball by Blake Lazarus in the 57th minute again put more pressure on the Tigers defence as they looked to be running on empty. A lost ball from David Stagg let the Tigers off the hook. The Tigers finally got on the socreboard in spectacular fashion through Lote Tuqiri as the Tigers spread the ball and Liam Fulton timed a lovely pass to Tuqiri who had plenty of work to do in outsprinting Jamal Idris and beating Luke Patten. Marshall’s conversion hit the upright to continue his goalkicking woes.
A chip kick from Marshall on the next set went awry through an unlucky bounce as he had the Bulldogs defence beat. A mistake from Kimmorley in the 61st minute gave the ball back to the Tigers though. The Tigers lost the ball on the first tackle through Blake Lazarus however. Lote Tuqiri came up with 2 try saving tackles in the next set as the Tigers valiantly tried to hang on. The Tigers came up with a penalty in the 64th minute as the ball was stripped from Blake Ayshford as the Tigers were looking dangerous. The Tigers were unable to come up with the try as a good offload from Junior Moors was unable to be taken by Ellis. A cross field chip kick from Farah for Marshall in the 67th minute did not come off for the Tigers as the Bulldogs came away with it. The Bulldogs fortunately lost the ball on the next set.
A bomb from Marshall in the 69th minute was easily defused by Patten as the Tigers chasers simply looked too tired.The Tigers ran the ball on the last tackle in the 70th minute however it was well read by the Bulldogs defence. The Bulldogs broke the Tigers open in the 71st minute however Idris lost the ball cold with the line in front of him. The Tigers again lost the ball while trying to force the pass on the next set though. The Tigers cracked again through a cross field kick with Michael Ennis scoring his second try of the night as the Tigers simply ran out of petrol. Goodwin converted the try to give the Bulldogs an unassailable 18-4 lead with 4 minuts remaining. The Bulldogs scored again from the re-start as Beau Ryan was forced to make a try saving tackle on Steve Turner and with no fullback at home, the Bulldogs kicked ahead and scored through Kimmorley to rub salt into the wound. The try was converted and the Bulldogs ran out 24-4 winners. Another Bulldogs break looked set to end the match with another try however they lost the ball.
In the end the scoreline did not reflect the closeness of this match, or the effort of the Tigers as they were forced to do a mountain of defending, particularly in the first half which took a lot of petrol out them and in the end proved too costly as they dropped off too many tackles in the second half.
Onto the players (stats likely to be adjusted):
1. Beau Ryan - Pretty good game from Beau in a beaten side tonight. Came up with a couple of try saving tackles and was busy in attack, although had limited opportunities as the Tigers had poor field position most the night. 152 metres in attack, 1 error and 9 tackles.
2. Lote Tuqiri - Strong game once again from Tuqiri, with the lowlight being outjumped by Idris, although he had momentum and can jump well. Otherwise Tuqiri scored a great try in the second half to give the Tigers a chance and came up with a couple of great try saving tackles in the second half. 178 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 4 tackle breaks, 7 tackles and a great try.
3. Blake Ayshford - Strong game overall from Blake as he had a good battle up against Josh Morris and held his own. His error count let him down as he lost the ball a bit but his defence was solid and he had some good moments in attack. 125 metres in attack, 2 offloads, 19 tackles, 3 missed tackles and 2 errors.
4. Chris Lawrence - Kept under wraps tonight up against Jamal Idris as the Bulldogs right side defence looked pretty good all game. Tried hard and defended well but limited opportunity in attack. 92 metres in attack, 2 tackle breaks, 17 tackles and 1 error.
5. Daniel Fitzhenry - Didn’t really notice Fitzy in attack unless he was taking a run from dummyhalf. Missed a lot of tackles and looked to suffer an injury late in the first half. Lacks outright pace to make a good fist of it on the wing these days so I question the decision to start him ahead of Daniela who can motor, but in the end Fitzy was pretty quiet and ordinary. Should be replaced next week with a genuine winger. 69 metres in attack, 23 tackles and 5 missed tackles.
6. Benji Marshall - Quietest performance of the year for Benji as the Tigers struggled to hold the ball and had limited attacking opportunities. Gave himself plenty of depth and occasionally looked dangerous but was handled well by the Bulldogs in the end. 46 metres in attack, 11 tackles, 3 errors.
7. Blake Lazarus - The only real blemish on his debut were a couple of dropped balls. Otherwise Lazarus was ok without being great. He had a good dig in defence including a great try saver on Josh Morris in the first half and took the line on a couple of times in attack but was handled well by the Bulldogs. Kicking game was poor I have to say. Replaced late in the game due to cramp but would have learnt something from the run tonight. Definitely has potential. 56 metres in attack, 8 tackles and 3 errors.
8. Bryce Gibbs - Again he was the Tigers best forward tonight, playing big minutes, defending well and the only Tiger forward to make more than 100 metres in attack. Looks ready for rep football to be honest and deserves a spot in the City side on current form. 119 metres in attack, 3 tackle breaks, 32 tackles, 1 error.
9. Robbie Farah - Busy game all night and did plenty of work in defence and distributed the ball well in attack. Played behind a beaten forward pack which affected his game, as it did to numerous Tiger players. Kicked a great 40/20 in the second half. Got the better of Michael Ennis in my opinion. 50 metres in attack, 35 tackles, 1 offload, 1 40/20 and 1 error.
10. Andrew Fifita - Not as much of a presence in attack tonight as the Tigers mostly defended while he was on, but he showed he doesn’t bludge in defence either. Looks comfortable out there, even in a beaten side and I’d like to see what he can do when the Tigers get a real roll on. 59 metres in attack, 2 tackle breaks, 23 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 1 offload.
11. Liam Fulton - Not prominent in attack tonight but threw a nice pass to send Tuqiri down the sideline and topped the tackle count. Solid effort but the conditions and lack of possession did not suit Liam’s game tonight. 60 metres in attack, 2 offloads, 51 tackles, 5 missed tackles and 1 error.
12. Gareth Ellis - Tried hard once again tonight but limited ball hurt his game, as it did to all the Tigers forwards. Defended strongly all night. 81 metres in attack, 39 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 2 errors.
13. Chris Heighington - Looked to be the second best Tigers forward behind Gibbs tonight as he battled away hard once again and had a couple of strong runs. Defended well once again. 97 metres in attack, 3 tackle breaks, 3 offloads and 36 tackles.
14. Junior Moors - Had his best game in Tigers colours tonight as he looked dangerous with the ball on a couple of occasions and definitely looks dangerous wide of the ruck where he uses his fend to good effect and get away an offload. I’d look to start him in place of Fifita next week. 69 metres in attack, 2 tackle breaks, 17 tackles, 1 offload.
16. Mark Flanagan - Didn’t really notice him in attack tonight but he got through a bit of defence along with the rest of the team. Hard to be critical of him as he tried hard but just didn’t get any quality ball. 49 metres in attack, 22 tackles, 3 missed tackles.
17. Geoff Daniela - Replaced Blake Lazarus late in the game but should have started on the wing. I can’t really see the point in putting a winger on the bench. No opportunity in attack. 26 metres in attack.
19. Willie Mataka - Didn’t get a lot of gametime which didn’t make a lot of sense to me as the Tigers had to do a lot of defending. Not sure whether we will see Willie next week as a result, as he didn’t get an opportunity to have a good go in attack. Definitely capable of playing first grade though. 18 metres in attack, 9 tackles.
It was poor tonight as the Tigers were forced to do a lot of defending in the first half which burnt up a lot of energy, and they had very little field position at any stage of the game which left them brain dead in attack. The Bulldogs defended well for the most part though and I will give them credit, although with the amount of ball they had, it was easy for them to pick off the tired Tigers.
Gibbs busted his backside up front and got some support from Heighington while out wide Lote Tuqiri and Blake Ayshford both looked dangerous at times while Robbie and Benji tried, but were not given much to work with and it was definitely an off-night for the Tigers when it came to attack.
In the first half it was brilliant as they only had 40% of the ball and had to do a mountain of tackling on their own line. No one shirked their duty in the first half however with the Tigers unable to reverse the possession trend in the second half, they fell off tackles despite giving their all. Fulton, Ellis, Farah, Heighington, Fifita and Gibbs all got through plenty of work in defence. The lack of possession told on the Tigers late in the game as the Bulldogs scored a couple of soft tries late.
Poor. I was hoping to see an improved kicking game with the addition of Blake Lazarus to the side, but his general kicking was poor, as was Marshall’s and Farah’s. The highlight was a 40/20 from Farah in the second half but otherwise there was little to feel excited about when the Tigers put foot to ball. It’s probably the weakest point of their game at the moment.
Overall team stats (Bulldogs in brackets):
Try assists: 1 (3)
Offloads: 14 (11)
Line breaks: 1 (6)
Line break assists: 1 (2)
Tackles made: 357 (291)
1 on 1 tackles: 29 (24)
Missed tackles: 63 (28)
Tackle breaks: 28 (66)
Total runs: 1344 metres (1587 metres)
Possession: 44% (56%)
Errors: 17 (13)
Penalties conceded: 4 (5)
Overall it was a dour game from the Tigers. They were forced to do far too much tackling for the second week in a row and in the end if proved their downfall as their completions were down and their attack flat. There was no doubting the effort from the Tigers, but you can’t win a game of football without the ball and the Tigers simply did not get the ball in good field position and were unable to build any pressure on the Bulldogs defence.
It doesn’t get any easier with the Tigers taking on bogey side the Panthers next week out at Penrith. Penrith boast a sizeable and talented foward pack so this game looms as a danger game for the Tigers as they are currently struggling for size up front and have burnt a lot of energy over the last couple of weeks with heavy defensive loads. Again the week ahead will be all about recovery and regrouping as they will not want to drop out of the top 8. Hopefully the Tigers can turn around the possession deficit they are currently enduring, they will need to if they are to topple the Panthers who are currently in good form.
Not the most enjoyable match report to type tonight, but hopefully some people found it an accurate reflection of tonights match.