Thompson and Benji reward Cleary’s faith in stunning upset of Roosters
By Adrian Proszenko
10 March 2018 — 6:52pm
David Nofoaluma scored two tries. In reserve grade. Which is where he will remain.
The bloke replacing him, the smallest in the game, made the biggest play of the NRL season so far.
Corey Thompson was the most controversial inclusion in the Wests Tigers line-up. With two minutes and 51 seconds on the clock, with his side behind by four, he crossed for one of those trademark contortionist winger tries.
“I think he epitomises what we’re trying to build here,” said coach Ivan Cleary.
“Not a huge signing with all due respect to Corey, but we thought it was a great signing and always admired him as a player. He’s turned up, earned his spot and played well again.”
And then Tui Lolohea, in the fat club just a week ago, slotted a sideline conversion to beat the premiership favourites. You can’t make this stuff up.
This result was as epic as the one in the Hunter the previous evening. And it was Thompson, the least heralded of the Tigers’ new recruits, who made it possible. Reputations mean little to Ivan Cleary, but Thompson just enhanced his. And this in a game that was meant to be all about James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk.
Benji Marshall was only meant to play a bit role in proceedings. Yes, it was his first match back in the black, white and orange for 1646 days, but his role was pegged as supersub rather than superstar. Instead, despite wearing the No.14 jersey, he was a starting half.
Josh Reynolds’s first game for the club was put on hold after injuring his hamstring in the captain’s run, cancelling out the absence of Roosters counterpart, Luke Keary.
Not since his NRL debut, way back in 2003, has Marshall been so nervous before a game. Usually the life of the party, he sat around his house in silence on game day when his previous coach, Wayne Bennett, shot him a text. The message was simple: “Go out there and be the Benji that we know at the Tigers. Just enjoy yourself and play footy.”
He did just that.
It didn’t take long to prove Benji is back. He came agonisingly close to scoring the opening try midway through the second half. However, the video refs ruled that Mitchell Cornish grounded a Luke Brooks grubber a millisecond before Marshall did.
If there was one period that highlighted Marshall’s worth, it was during the 10 minutes that Brooks spent in the sin bin. The former Bronco kept finding the sideline with his kicks, chewing up time to give his team a breather while a man short. It might not be a spectacular as a step of flick, but it kept them in the game.
Every time James Tedesco touched the Steeden, the crowd booed. With one glorious exception. It was early in the match, Blake Ferguson found open space from a turnover, steamed downfield, perfectly positioned his unmarked fullback and threw him a pill that should have been swallowed. Instead, perhaps thinking about a post-try celebration against his former club, the ball hit the ANZ Stadium turf. Try butchered. The crowd went spare.
It was the only thing resembling a line break in the opening half of the game, in which the only points came via a Lolohea penalty goal. When the hosts trudged off at half-time with their noses in front, they did so to a standing ovation.
Cooper Cronk at the Roosters plays eerily similar to Cooper Cronk at Melbourne. His transfer is undoubtedly one of the stories of the season and the trademark control was there from his first appearance. He may not have had Cameron Smith feeding him from dummy half or Billy Slater to offload to, but he is a master tactician in any company.
His kicking game was superb. In the first half alone, he kicked a 40-20, produced two line drop-outs from kicks and gave the ball to the right person at the right time. Basically everything you would expect from the Queensland and Australian halfback. But it wasn’t enough on this occasion.
It was a scrappy affair. The Roosters paid no heed to the crackdown on play-the-balls and were pinged twice. There wasn’t a single line break in the opening half and it took 65 minutes to post the opening try, via Blake Ferguson. It was the only time the Tigers line was breached as Cleary’s men showed a new-found resolve in what was a positive start to their new era.