Round 24 of the NRL saw the Wests Tigers return to the SFS for one of the most anticipated clashes of the season as they were aiming for 7 straight wins and the chance to put Parramatta out of the running in the race to the finals. This would be no easy task though as the Eels were also in excellent form, just 1 competition point behind the Tigers and gunning for 6 straight wins. The Eels were boosted by the late inclusion of Feleti Mateo on the bench while the Tigers also received a boost of their own in the late naming of John Skandalis on the bench after he had earlier been ruled out with a nasty corked thigh.
The game began at a fast pace with both sides keen to settle down and ascert some acsendancy. The Tigers got numbers in tackles early and were effective in shutting down the Eels pack with some solid hits in defence and putting the Eels on their backs. The Tigers came up with a poor play on the last tackle after 11 minutes when Lui threw a pass to no one. Marshall was able to clean up but the kick went nowhere and the Tigers were then caught offside, giving the Eels a good chance to attack the Tigers line. The Tigers responded well though and forced a mistake from the Eels.
In attack both sides looked conservative, content to complete their sets and get to their kick. The Eels started to look dangerous in attack in the 15th minute but a pass went to ground and was swooped up by Todd Payten. The Tigers received a penalty to further help their cause. The Tigers went close to scoring but the Eels line held. Things suddenly turned dark for the Tigers in the 17th minute when the season’s leading tryscorer, Taniela Tuiaki landed awkwardly in a tackle and appeared to sustain a lower leg injury. Tuiaki was unfortunately carried from the field. This forced John Morris onto the field with Blake Ayshford shifting to the wing.
In the 19th minute the Tigers prop Todd Payten forced a mistake from the Eels close to their own line. Moments later and Benji Marshall came up with a play that will go down as one of the greatest of the season if not this decade as he dummied on two separate occasions before stepping his way through the Eels line. For a split second it looked as if Marshall might go all the way but wih a sleight of hand not seen by anyone else, he came up with a brilliant flick pass to Blake Ayshford who scored in the corner. Marshall’s sideline conversion was waved away and the Tigers were up 4-0.
The Tigers then went back to back, this time scoring through opposite winger Beau Ryan. The try resulted after a great bust made by Tigers centre Chris Lawrence who set off downfield before offloading to Ayshford who was caught just short of the line. The ball was then spread wide before ending up in Marshall’s hands again. Benji set off across field as the Eels were caught short and he offloaded to Ryan who did very well to cross in the corner but sustaining a leg injury in the process. He stayed on the field though as Marshall’s conversion was again waved away.
The Tigers then coughed up the ball on the next set giving the Eels a good chance to attack the Tigers line. Again they made a mistake late in the tackle count as the Tigers looked vulnerable. A poor last tackle kick from Marshall gave Hayne a good run at the Tigers and on the next play they received a penalty as Gibbs would not let go of Grothe. The Tigers line again held though. The Tigers game started to unravel though, as a last tackle kick from Farah went out on the full, again giving the Eels good field position. This time the Eels made the Tigers pay as they crossed out wide through Luke Burt, who also appeared to cop a knee in the back from Bryce Gibbs. Gibbs was put on report and the Eels were awarded an 8 point try which they converted.
All of a sudden it was the Eels who had their sail up as they muscled up in defence to halt the Tigers momentum. Some poor discipline undid their good work as Benji Marshall took a quick tap and set off downfield before offloading to Corey Payne. Payne offloaded to Morris but the pass was ruled forward in a dubious decision. Beau Ryan was also replaced due to a knee injury. Just prior to halftime Jarrod Hayne managed to land a 40/20, giving the Eels one final shot at the Tigers. The Tigers managed to hold on, again forcing a mistake as Robert Lui set off downfield before being reeled in beyond the halfway line as the halftime siren sounded.
Tigers had 56% possession and made 5 linebreaks to 1 however they missed 17 tackles to the Eels 9 in the first half in some key stats. The Tigers had completed 16/21 sets too. The Eels had also held back Feleti Mateo in the first half. Mark Geyer also reckoned the Tigers were gone and the Eels would run over them in the second half…
Unfortunately the Tigers were first to crack in the second half as the Eels crossed through Krisnan Inu after the Eels received a penalty which they did well to milk and then were allowed to get away with a forward pass by Jarod Hayne. Inu converted from the sideline and the Eels now lead 14-8 after 46 minutes. The Tigers now started to look a little rattled as the Eels began to lift. Danny Galea was caught on the last tackle a couple of minutes later however the Tigers defence was up to the task as the Eels made a mistake.
The Eels tore the Tigers apart up the middle through Jarod Hayne but Bryce Gibbs somehow managed to get across in cover to tackle him just as the Tigers looked doomed. He gave away a penalty in the process but again the Tigers managed to force a mistake from the Eels. They then counter attacked through Ayshford and soon after Benji Marshall managed to force a line dropout. The Tigers managed to hit back through John Morris on the last tackle as the Tigers spread the ball from one side of the field to the other as the ball went through the hands of Farah, Lui, Marshall, and then to Lawrence who came up with a brilliant flick pass to find Morris in the unusual position on the wing. Benji’s kick was again waved away to leave the Tigers trailing 14-12 after 56 minutes.
The Tigers looked to be in more trouble in the 61st minute when Benji Marshall went down injured. Luckily he managed to get back to his feet and play on. The Eels then split the Tigers through Jarod Hayne once again but the Eels again lost the ball to let the Tigers off the hook. The Eels made the Tigers pay a couple of minutes later as the Tigers failed to get their kick away. It all started with an offload from Mateo which then sparked the rest of the Eels into offloading before Robson crossed near the posts. Inu converted to extend the Eels lead to 20-12 with 14 minutes remaining.
The Eels then began to break tackles with ease as the Tigers looked to be on the ropes but just when they looked gone, they hit back through Beau Ryan in the 70th minute as he took a bullet pass from Robbie Farah to set sail down the sideline and score in the corner. Marshall was tasked with his 4th sideline conversion of the night which he finally landed to narrow the score to 20-18 with 8 minutes remaining.
The Tigers were then dealt a very cruel decision when John Morris was put into open space only for Marshall’s pass to be called forward. The replay looked like the Tigers were hard done by. Jarod Hayne then sealed the game for the Eels in the 77th minute as he chipped and chased on the last, regathered and made it to the line with ease. Inu converted to make the score 26-18 and that’s the way it stayed until fulltime.
In the end it was a heartbreaking loss for the Tigers who gave their all but were crueled by injuries and the brilliance of Jarod Hayne who seemed to be stunned himself as he left the field with some of the plays he managed to come up with.
1. Moltzen - Fairly well contained tonight. He wasn’t poor but the Eels kicked and chased well and Moltzen wasn’t given much room to move. He did chime in the backline and came up with some good passes. Only tested once under the high ball which he held well. 74 metres in attack, 2 tackles, 2 missed tackles and 1 linebreak assist.
2. Tuiaki - Unfortunately for TNT, the human wrecking ball finally came to a halt midway through the first half as his leg was caught under an Eels player in a tackle. It resulted in Tuiaki being carried from the field with a suspected broken ankle. He had made 50 metres in attack up to this point.
3. Ayshford - Good game from Blake and he held his own against Inu IMO and also had to shift to the wing at one point when Ryan came off. Looked good with the ball on a couple of occasions and did well to score the Tigers opening try after Marshall’s brilliance leading up to it. Made 116 metres in attack, made 9 tackles, 4 tackle busts, 1 linebreak and 1 error in a solid game.
4. Lawrence - Very good game from Lawrence tonight. Finally got put into open space and was handful in attack and defended solidly. Made 121 metres in attack, 21 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 2 tackle breaks, 1 error, 1 linebreak and 1 try assist.
5. Ryan - Continued his solid form with a good game tonight after being injured in the first half. Scored 2 good tries, copped a leg injury and left the field but returned in the second half to score a good try from an excellent pass by Farah. 3 missed tackles were the main blemish on his game, but he came up with a couple of good saves in the second half when the Tigers were on the ropes. 97 metres in attack, 2 tries, 2 linebreaks.
6. Marshall - The Tigers best tonight. His flick pass to Ayshford for the opening try was so quick you had to look twice to see what he actually did. Sparked the Tigers on several occasions and also defended pretty well. Made 63 metres in attack, kicked for 336 metres, came up with a linebreak and 2 try assists. Goalkicking was the only thing that let him down, with only 1 from 4 due to all the Tigers tries being scored in the corners. Even if he landed them all we lose by 2 points though.
7. Lui - Had an ok first half with one poor pass being his lowlight and a good break made on halftime his highlight. Very hit and miss in defence. Came up with some decent tackles but really struggled in D when Mateo came on and started bumping him off. Lui looks to have a cool head out there though and will only benefit from games like this down the track. 95 metres in attack, 4 tackle breaks, 13 tackles, 4 missed tackles, 1 linebreak.
8. Gibbs - Just like the classic Clint Eastwood filmd - The Good, the bad and the ugly…Ran hard and went forward but all of this was undone by incredibly poor discipline in giving away numerous penalties and being put on report for kneeing Luke Burt. Came up with a trysaver on Hayne in the second half only to give away another penalty. He was all over the place tonight and usually in the thick of it. Did more harm than good tonight though and will probably be watching next week’s match from home as I daresay he’ll get suspended. 108 metres in attack, 23 tackles. 4 penalties against him tonight which really let Bryce and the team down.
9. Farah - Tackled himself to a standstill tonight with 51 tackles in a gutsy performance. His running from dummyhalf was well handled by the Eels but Robbie still came up with a good try assist for Ryan in the second half. Ran for 30 metres but that stat is probably wrong. 1 try assist and kicked for 144 metres. 3 errors let him down, including a kick out on the full.
10. Payten - Decent game from Todd. Ran ok and defended well. Not an impact player though which is sometimes his downfall as he doesn’t go forward as much as a prop should. He was solid though. Ran for 89 metres, made 25 tackles.
11. Ellis - Another good solid game from Ellis. Ran hard all night and hit hard in defence. Took care of Moi Moi on more than one occasion and along with Galloway, he was the cornerstone of the Tigers pack again tonight. Made 109 metres in attack, 35 tackles.
12. Galea - Defended very well once again and played most of the game on the fringe of the ruck which suits him. 64 metres in attack, 18 tackles.
13. Heighington - Had his best game since returning from injury tonight. Ran better than recent weeks and defended well. Still being given a rest which helps him IMO. Made 89 metres in attack and 19 tackles.
14. Morris - Forced to play on the wing tonight as TNT was injured. Did reasonably well out there although I doubt we’ll see him start there next week. Scored a nice try off an excellent flick pass from Lawrence and defended well. 58 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 5 tackles.
15. Payne - His first run was a beauty as he was put into open space. He was bumped off a few tackles in D though. Came up with a couple of errors but didn’t play too badly. 84 metres in attack, 14 tackles with 2 or 3 missed tackles.
17. Galloway - Leading metre muncher for the forwards tonight. Galloway was strong and didn’t take a backward step despite playing injured. Came up with some good hits in D too. 13 tackles and 129 metres in attack. 4 missed tackles let him down though.
19. Skandalis - Solid off the bench with 16 tackles and 94 metres in attack. Mistake free and tried his hardest as usual.
The Tigers had several chances tonight and all 4 tries were very well executed, none better than Ayshford’s first which Marshall setup. The Tigers were also pulled back on a couple of passes which looked good to me, and the channel 9 commentary team and had they been allowed to play on…wel we’ll never know. The Tigers went ok up the middle against the Eels but lacked a bit of pace out wide with Ayshford and Morris both having to play fair portions of the game on the wing. Marshall was excellent in attack, Lui looks ok in attack but is taking the line on more than he is trying to set up plays. Farah was well handled for the most part as he tackled himself to a standstill.
For the majority it was very good but there were small lapses, mainly in the second half where the Eels were able to offload and they showed just how dangerous they are when their second phase play takes over, scoring a brilliant try through Robson. Inu was a handful for the Tigers at times, as was Mateo when he targeted Lui in D. Hayne was the key though. The Tigers hit him hard on several occasions but such is his form at the moment that when the Tigers came up in a staggered line or fell off a tackle, he was there to pounce and he didn’t waste his opportunities. The Tigers handled the Eels pack fairly well though. Had they been able to nullify the Eels second phase play, they would have won. The scramble defence was good.
Average. Farah came up with some poor kicks tonight which was unusual for him. Benji forced one line drop out while Lui put one bomb straight down Hayne’s throat and he then raced 60 metres downfield to be collared by Gibbs of all people. Overall the Tigers did not seem to handle the windy conditions well, as Hayne managed to produce two 40/20 kicks in contrast to the Tigers.
Possession: 50% each
Completions: 27 each
Tackles: 272 to the Tigers, 300 to the Eels
Metres gained: 1472 to the Tigers, 1347 to the Eels
Errors: 9 to the Tigers, 13 to the Eels
Penalties: 3 to the Tigers, 5 to the Eels (4 from Gibbs)
To conclude, it was a very good game of football, it had everything - brilliant attacking play from Marshall and Hayne, solid hits up the middle and some brain explosions by Bryce Gibbs which will earn him the wrath of Tigers coaching staff as well as a spell on the sideline I assume. Both sides were good, with the key turning points being Gibbs giving the Eels an 8 point try and the Tigers unable to shut down the 5 offloads the Eels came up for the Robson try. The Tigers also came out of the game in bad shape in terms of injuries. Tuiaki looks like his season is over as it is suspected he has broken his ankle or a bone in his lower leg. Ryan was also injured but managed to return to the field.
Next week the Tigers will have a reshuffled side due to injuries and the loss of Gibbs to suspension one would think. The Tigers now need to win both remaining games as the Broncos accounted for the Dragons in Wollongong tonight. This will be a big ask but hopefully it’s a challenge the Tigers can respond to.
It was a tough loss tonight but the Tigers were by no means disgraced. Hope you found the report informative.