Round 7 of the Telstra NRL Premiership saw the Wests Tigers travel to their biggest hoodoo ground – CUA Stadium to take on arch-rivals, and bogey team, the Penrith Panthers. Both sides were locked on 8 competition points entering this match, however the Panthers were arguably in better form coming off 3 straight wins while the Tigers were hurting after coming off a 24-4 loss to the Bulldogs and facing several injury concerns, particularly over captain Robbie Farah who tore the medial ligament in his elbow against the Bulldogs. The Tigers did welcome back prop Keith Galloway while the Panthers were at full strength.
It is no secret that the Tigers have only beaten the Panthers 4 times in 17 appearances and they produced two of their worst performances of last season against the Panthers. Tonight’s match would be all about completing their sets, getting to their kick and getting their up-and-in defence working against the sizeable Panthers pack if the Tigers were to compete. Both sides bristled with pace and skill in the backline however the Panthers boasted a much larger forward pack which had been doing the job well of late. With the Panthers starting red-hot favourites, the Tigers were certainly going to have to produce something special to come away with a win tonight with 90% of the experts tipping a Panthers victory. So just how did tonight’s match unfold…
The Panthers kicked off to start the match and got away to a nervous start as the Panthers offloaded early through Frank Pritchard who put Brad Tighe into open space. He attempted an offload which was touched by a Tiger and they went deep on the attack inside the Tigers half. They went to the air through Walsh however Lote Tuqiri was equal to the task. An early penalty to the Tigers relieved some pressure. Tigers prop Bryce Gibbs dropped the ball on the second tackle however in a disappointing start. The Panthers were first to cross in the 5th minute though Lachlan Coote as the Panthers were getting away early offloads in a worrying sign for the Tigers. The try was converted to give the Panthers a handy 6-0 lead.
The Tigers were playing Benji Marshall at first receiver with Daniel Fitzhenry at second receiver in an interesting move. The Tigers hit back in spectacular fashion in the 10th minute through Chris Heighington as Robbie Farah cut the Panthers ruck defence to shreds before offloading to Lote Tuqiri who did very well in picking the ball up off his toes before finding Heighington who crossed out wide. Marshall converted the try to level the scores at 6-6. A good shot on Civonceiva by Keith Galloway jolted the ball loose giving the Tigers a scrum 35 metres out from their own half. A grubber kick from Farah in the 16th minute found touch 5 out from the Panthers line. So far for the match the Tigers kick and chase was proving effective.
A forward pass from the Panthers in the 19th minute gave the Tigers a good attacking chance inside the Panthers half. A poor pass from Farah on the next set resulted in the Tigers play going nowhere. The Panthers were awarded a penalty in the 22nd minute as they caught the Tigers on the backfoot. The Tigers defence was equal to the task however they were caught in-goal as Chris Lawrence slipped in fielding the ball. Another Panthers penalty right in front 20 out saw them take another tap putting the Tigers under more pressure. They crossed in the 25th minute through Michael Jennings as the Tigers marker defence was beaten. The try was converted to put the Panthers back in front at 12-6.
The Panthers were awarded a penalty from the re-start as Andrew Fifita was caught out as the Panthers started to get an ominous roll-on. The Panthers attacked the Tigers right edge defence and almost scored however a kick by Brad Tighe went dead fortunately for the Tigers. The Panthers continued to look dangerous attacking the Tigers right-edge defence however a forward pass while they were on the attack allowed the Tigers off the hook. A good break by Lote Tuqiri saw the Tigers attack inside the Panthers half in the 31st minute and they were awarded a penalty to help their cause. The Tigers hit back through Chris Lawrence in the 32 minute as Benji Marshall through a great cut out ball to him as the Panthers defence was drawn in. The try was converted by Marshall to level the scores at 12-12 with 6 minutes remaining before halftime.
The Tigers were awarded another penalty to help get them out of their as Jennings grappled Farah around the neck. Benji Marshall attempted a field goal which was waved away. The Tigers had to withstand one last Panthers attacking raid just before halftime however a high shot from Marshall on Luke Lewis saw the Panthers take a 2 point lead into halftime as Michael Gordon landed a penalty goal.
In the first half the Tigers were well served by Robbie Farah, Chris Heighington and Lote Tuqiri. The Tigers had 48% possession however had completed 16/17 sets which was keeping them in the match.
The Tigers kicked off to start the second half and got away to a safe start however the Panther forwards continued to hit the Tigers up the middle. The Panthers hoisted a bomb in the 42nd minute which went nowhere and the Tigers counter-attacked through Marshall however he threw a ridiculous flick pass to Tuqiri who was not expecting it and Penrith went back on the attack. They forced a line drop out from the Tigers at the end of the set. The Panthers were given another set of 6 but kicked it on the first allowing the Tigers off the hook however Liam Fulton then knocked the ball on putting the Panthers right back on the attack. The Tigers aimed up defensively and were awarded a penalty towards the end of the Panthers set.
Again the Tigers continued to drop the ball this time through Gibbs however Penrith returned the favour moments later. The Tigers were then awarded a penalty inside the Panthers half as they lay all over Gareth Ellis. Bryce Gibbs attempted an offload which was ruled forward again as coach Tim Sheens started pulling out whatever hair he had left. Gareth Ellis trampled Luke Ellis from a 20 metre re-start and the Tigers were awarded a penalty. The Tigers came up with yet another error, this time through rookie half Blake Lazarus in attempting to get up and play the ball. The Tigers defence held however. A Penrith knock-on in the 56th minute giving the Tigers a small breather. The Tigers again dropped the ball, this time through Liam Fulton and then the Panthers were given a penalty putting them on the attack inside the Tigers half. The Tigers defence was superb as Liam Fulton made amends for his earlier mistake and it was followed up with a Tigers penalty.
The Tigers attacking raid went close but not close enough as Penrith did well to defend. Andrew Fifta came up with a great run in the 61st minute. A break by Purtell saw the Panthers go very close to scoring however the Tigers scramble defence was excellent. They were forced to come up with yet another line drop out though as Beau Ryan punched a Luke Walsh kick dead. The Tigers were unable to hold this time as the Panthers crossed through Coote as Luke Lewis burst through a poor tackle from Mark Flanagan before offloading. Gordon made no mistake with the simple conversion and the Panthers looked home with 14 minutes remaining.
Another Panthers penalty in the 66th minute put them right back inside the Tigers half. An intercept from Beau Ryan saw the Tigers counter-attack and go right on the attack. They finally forced the Panthers to force the ball dead as Benji Marshall went close to scoring. The Tigers then scored a great try through Mark Flanagan as Chris Heighington burst through the Penrith defence before offloading. Marshall converted the try to bridge the gap to 20-18 with 9 minutes remaining. Gareth Ellis then lost the ball on the 4th tackle putting the Panthers right back on the attack. Penrith again scored through a high ball, this time Michael Gordon as the Tigers failed to contest the ball. The conversion was successful to extend the lead 26-18. The Panthers had a try disallowed in the 76th minute. The Tigers attempted a miracle chip kick between Farah and Marshall however the Panthers came away with it and held the Tigers at bay until the final whistle.
In the end numerous handling errors cost the Tigers dearly in the second half as they squandered field position and chances to snatch the game back. Their defence was fairly good minus a couple of poor reads and tackles which hurt them, no doubting the effort from the Tigers but once again completions, this time in the second half cost them.
Onto the players (stats subject to change):
1. Beau Ryan – Played on the right wing tonight with Blake Lazarus defending at fullback and this hurt Ryan’s game to a big extent as he wasn’t able to get involved as much as what he had been able to while playing at fullback, plus it dented the Tigers kick returns in a big way. Came up with an important intercept in the second half in the lead up to the Flanagan try. Needs to be shifted back to fullback for the sake of the team. 119 metres in attack, 6 tackles, 2 missed tackles and 1 error.
2. Lote Tuqiri – Another great game from Tuqiri tonight as he was heavily involved in the first half and made several halfbreaks while playing a key role in the Tigers first try. Came up with a couple of good hits in defence too while being very safe with his hands. The pick of the Tigers backline easily. 139 metres in attack, 5 tackles, 6 tackle breaks, 1 linebreak.
3. Blake Ayshford – Very quiet tonight through no fault of his own, but the Tigers backline stuttered in a major way with Fizthenry playing second receiver on the right side. Ayshford received no ball as a result. 52 metres in attack and 14 tackles.
4. Chris Lawrence – Scored a nice try and had a great battle with Michael Jennings in the first half however he was poor in the second half with a terrible read on a Panthers kick which resulted in Michael Gordon’s try. A mixed game on the back end of receiving no real quality ball other than the pass for his try. 62 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 12 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 1 error, 1 offload.
5. Daniel Fitzhenry – Defended just wide of the ruck and got through plenty of defensive work but came up with a few misses once again and played a lot of second receiver in attack which killed the Tigers right side attack. Has to go back to State Cup or the bench at the bare minimum. Very disappointing I have to say. 47 metres in attack, 18 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 1 error.
6. Benji Marshall – Has come back to earth with a thud since Tim Moltzen was ruled out for the season. Threw a coach killer of a flick pass intended for Tuqiri in the second half with the Tigers counter-attacking, the move failed to come off and typified Benji’s attacking game tonight. He has looked out of sorts for the last 2 weeks now and is struggling to assert his authority on the back of a forward pack which is struggling. Kicking game was also poor tonight however he landed all 3 of his conversions. Needs a playmaker he can strike a combination with - Bring back Lui next week I say. 54 metres in attack, 2 linebreak assists, 1 try assist, 6 tackles and 2 missed tackles.
7. Blake Lazarus – In a word, rubbish. Defended at fullback and reminded me of Moltzen there, with plenty of sideways running. He was non-existant in attack and offered no kicking game and really did not play the game of a number 7 or 1 for that matter. Has to go back to State Cup for the good of the team, with either Lui or Taumata given the 7 jersey. 54 metres in attack, 7 tackles, 2 missed tackles and 1 error.
8. Bryce Gibbs – Disappointing tonight in attack, he was easily chewed up by the Panthers pack and came up with a couple of handling errors which let him down too. Got through plenty of defence though and tackled well as always. Just a pity his attack was down tonight. 71 metres in attack, 37 tackles, 3 errors.
9. Robbie Farah – Played ok tonight, tried hard in attack behind a beaten forward pack and was excellent in setting up the Tigers first try. The elbow injury didn’t seem to hamper him too much as he topped the tackle count. If the Tigers forwards can aim up next week, no doubt we will see a more potent Farah in attack. Kicking game was average to poor tonight. 82 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 1 offload, 44 tackles, 3 missed tackles.
10. Keith Galloway – Looked short of a run tonight and probably not 100% over his injury either. The Tigers certainly needed him against the Panthers big pack though. Hopefully big Keith will improve against the Roosters next week as he was a bit down tonight and in danger of being over looked for rep football at this stage. 75 metres in attack, 24 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 2 offloads.
11. Liam Fulton – Very busy all game and tried hard but lacked penetration against the Panthers pack tonight. Defended well as usual but didn’t really offer any variety in attack tonight. 101 metres in attack, 28 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 2 errors, 1 offload.
12. Gareth Ellis – A bit quiet in the first half but was strong in the second half. A couple of dropped balls in the second half hurt his game, otherwise he had a good battle against Trent Waterhouse and it probably ended in a draw between the two. Far from his best game in Tigers colours as he has just struggled the last couple of weeks. 89 metres in attack, 32 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 2 errors.
13. Chris Heighington – The Tigers best tonight as he was tireless in attack and defence. Scored a great try and also set up Flanagan’s try. Really led the way well and looks rep quality this season IMO as he is consistently breaking tackles and defending well. 126 metres in attack, 1 try, 1 try assist, 1 offload, 1 linebreak, 7 tackle breaks, 32 tackles and 3 missed tackles.
14. Junior Moors – Not bad tonight apart from a silly penalty he gave away in the second half. Worthy of a bench spot at this stage but I hope he has some improvement left in him. Could be better utilised wide of the ruck if the right bench was selected. 63 metres in attack, 16 tackles.
15. Andrew Fifita – Another decent game from the rising prop tonight. Came up with one great run which left a trail of defenders in his wake. Still learning the ropes but easily offering the most impact out of the Tigers bench and made more metres than Galloway and Gibbs tonight. 92 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 4 tackle breaks and 9 tackles. Conceded 3 penalties which let him down.
16. Mark Flanagan – Mixed bag tonight, got brushed by Luke Lewis which led to a Panthers try in the second half but did well to support Heighno to score his first try of the season and get the Tigers back in the match. Not getting much gametime at the moment and could do with more given the amount of tackling the Tigers have had to do lately. 28 metres in attack, 14 tackles, 1 missed tackle.
17. Geoff Daniela – Only got 5 minutes on the field.
It’s really struggling at the moment and I put it down to 3 reasons:
1. The lack of go forward by the forward pack. The Tigers have struggled up front the last couple of weeks behind a poor completion rate. Tonight Galloway and Gibbs struggled while Heighno, Fifita, Fulton and Ellis all tried hard but the lack of ball once again proved a key undoing of the Tigers tonight.
2. Blake Lazarus. The Tigers may just as well have played with 12 players tonight as he has proven completely ineffective in attack, and defending at fullback has killed Beau Ryan’s great go forward of recent weeks as he is now stuck back on the wing. He also has offered no kicking game or organisation in attack, two key and essential ingredients you expect from any halfback. He has no combination with Farah or Marshall and they’re both struggling without that third playmaker to take the pressure off them and link with the Tigers outside backs. The backline is also receiving no quality ball on the right side. He has to go back to State Cup for the good of the team. Lui or Taumata must be named at 7 next week if the Tigers are to overcome the Roosters.
3. Daniel Fitzhenry. Yep, that’s right, enough is enough. Firstly, he gets in and has a god in defence although he is missing plenty of tackles at the same time. It’s his attack though which really lets the Tigers down. He’s not playing on the right wing and instead is being used a playmaker. BAD MISTAKE. Fitzhenry os not a playmaker. Never has been, never will be. The Tigers right side attack is practically not existent as a result. Fitzhenry really needs to go back to State Cup along with Lazarus. This would at least allow Beau Ryan to move back to fullback where he was excelling, and a genuine winger such as Geoff Daniela, Mitch Brown or Rhys Pritchard move to the right wing where they can be better utilised in comparison to Fitzy who really has slowed down too much to make a go of it out wide. Having a specialist winger in Daniela sit on the bench for 75 minutes tonight was inexcusable.
It was very good for large portions of the game as once again the Tigers made things dificult for themselves, particularly in the second half when their completion rate went out the window. The disappointing aspects were the Panthers first two tries which were close to the line and soft. The defusal of kicks in the second half was also very poor, with the Panthers scoring two tries from the boot of Walsh. The Tigers are making things harder ontheir defence than they have to be with the dropped ball they are coming up with.
In the first half I thought it was ok without being good or poor. In the second half though, it really was poor. Both Farah and Marshall are struggling to come up with any real pressure kicks and Lazarus has kicked the ball twice in 2 games which certainly hasn’t helped them. The Tigers need Lui back in the team IMO as his kicking game was looking alright prior to injury.
Overall match and team stats (Panthers in brackets):
Try assists: 3 (3)
Offloads: 6 (9)
Line breaks: 5 (5)
Line break assists: 2 (2)
Tackles: 304 (217)
1 on 1 tackles: 23 (30)
Missed tackles: 29 (32)
Tackle breaks: 32 (29)
Total metres: 1259 (1524)
Errors: 11 (9)
Penalties conceded: 6 (7)
Possession: 43% (57%)
Completion rate: 74% (76%)
Not withstanding some poor positional choices by Sheens, the Tigers were well in this game tonight at halftime. They had 48% possession which was improvement over the last couple of weeks but more importantly they completed 16 from 17 sets in the first half. It all fell to pieces in the second half though as the Tigers only completed 10 from 19 sets and ended up with 43% possession for the match. To only lose by 8 points showed how well they defended, however it shouldn’t have come to this. If the team held the ball in the second half and repeated their first half completions, I’m confident they would have won as they had the Panthers struggling defensively on several occasions. The fact that the Panthers only made 217 tackles to the Tigers 304 yet missed more tackles says a lot for the grit the Tigers showed.
Unfortunately the team again looked lost in attack a lot of the time with the forwards unable to get on top of the Panthers large pack. They certainly had a go, but the lack of ball really hurt them. Farah and Marshall are struggling to get anything going as they are not attacking a retreating defensive line as a result. I’ve already highlighted Blake Lazarus and Daniel Fitzhenry as key stumbling blocks in the Tigers attack so I won’t go into that any further here.
The Tigers return to Campbelltown for the first time this season next Sunday where hopefully they can extract revenge on the Sydney Roosters. If the Tigers are to come away with the points and snap their two game losing streak, a couple of things need to happen:
1. Robert Lui or Arana Taumata need to come into the side at halfback. I’ve seen enough of Lui to say that he has a better running game, better passing game, better kicking game and better defensive game than anything I’ve seen from Lazarus thus far. Plus he has a better combination with Farah and Marshall which is essential.
2. Fitzhenry has to go back to State Cup or the bench at the very least. The Tigers need a genuine winger on the right side and not sitting on the bench as we have seen for the last two weeks. Beau Ryan has not been able to play a proper fullbacks game as a result and his go forward, and the Tigers go forward from kick returns has reverted back to what it was when Moltzen was there, and that is poor to say the least.
So at this stage I’m praying Payten, Lui and Taumata are all passed fit to play next week because if the Tigers trot out the same team next week, we will be talking about a third loss rather than a win.