Round 25 of the NRL saw the Wests Tigers travel to Skilled Stadium to take on the high flying Gold Coast Titans, who were assured of a home final as they could finish no lower than 3rd on the competition table. It was a must-win match for the 10th placed Tigers who entered tonight’s match with an injury ravaged side, including several players who had been in doubt all week. One thing was certain though, and that was the Tigers would give it their all.
The Tigers got away to a flyer tonight, scoring after just 4 minutes through Benji Marshall. The try was orchestrated by Robbie Farah on the Tigers 30 metre line as he darted across field before drawing in Nathan Friend and putting Tim Moltzen into a good hole. Moltzen took off down field before drawing Matt Rogers and offloading to Marshall in support who had enough pace to hold off one of the Titans wingers who came across in cover. Marshall converted his try and it was 6-0. The Tigers continued to control field position early as they peppered the GC line and in the 10th minute they were in for their second try, this time through skipper Robbie Farah who snuck out of dummyhalf and managed to squeeze the ball down on the line in a clever piece of play. Marshall again converted and the Tigers were up 12-0 and looking sharp.
The Titans hit back in the 16th minute through captain, and former Tigers Scott Prince, who backed up a good break made by Preston Campbell. The try resulted from the Tigers failing to put the Titans on the deck, and just like Parramatta did last week, the Titans offloaded and Campbell eventually stepped past Farah before drawing Moltzen in and putting Prince away. Prince made no mistake with the conversion and it was 12-6 to the Tigers.
10 minutes later and the Titans were back on level terms with the Tigers, as they again made the Tigers pay for not putting the player on the deck. It started with backrower Mark Minichello managing to offload with two Tigers players hanging off him, and again Scott Prince found a hole in the Tigers line as he put Campbell through and he had too much pace for the Tigers to combat. Prince again converted and it was 12-12 with the Tigers starting to look tired in the humid conditions.
To their credit though, the Tigers hung in there and managed to come up with an inspirational piece of play after half Robert Lui had broked the Titans out wide and set off downfield before the ball found his foot. The Titans counter-attacked through one of their wingers who took off downfield. Fortunately for the Tigers, Robbie Farah made a sensational cover tackle, putting the Titans winger into touch. Just on the stroke of haltime the Tigers forced a mistake from the Titans and didn’t waste their chance. An offload from Keith Galloway found Gareth Ellis who came up with a nice flick pass of his own to find Tim Moltzen who sliced across field between two Titans defenders before getting his arms free to find Rhys Hanbury unmarked who crossed out wide. Marshall’s conversion was waved away and the Tigers went to halftime with a 16-12 lead.
The second half did not start well for the Tigers as the Titans got away to a flyer this time around. After forcing the Tigers in-goal, the Titans crossed through Scott Prince who put in a grubber kick close to the posts. The ball did not set up well for the Tigers as it bounced off the posts and Prince was able to place a hand on it before Moltzen could. It was a frustrating try to see and Prince kicked the Titans into the lead at 18-16. Six minutes later and the Titans were in again through Luke O’Dwyer as he was put into space 10 metres out from the Tigers line and managed to get across the line despite the valiant attempt to hold him up by Marshall. Prince again landed the conversion and it was now 24-16 with the Tigers looking in serious trouble unless they could secure some possession.
Fortunately for the Tigers, a near moment for the Titans saw the Tigers end up with the ball and make their way downfield. A very helpful penalty 5 metres out from the Titans line saw Robbie Farah take a tap and dart over for his second try of the night. Marshall missed the conversion which was disappointing as it was halfway between the posts and sideline and was a kick he would have expected to land. The Tigers were now back in the game though and this lifted them, as the forwards were running hard and the backline was seeing some ball. In the 61st minute the Tigers were back on level terms with the Titans as Marshall drifted across field before creating an extra man. Benji offloaded to Chris Lawrence who came up with a good catch and pass to find Rhys Hanbury who crossed for his second try of the evening. Benji was having no luck with his goalkicking once again as the sideline conversion missed.
For the next 10 minutes both sides were guilty of dropped ball as fatigue from the humidity took its toll. Unfortunately the Tigers were first to crack. A grubber kick from Campbell 10 metres out from the Tigers line found Mat Rogers who got to the ball before Tim Moltzen could. Prince kept his perfect record with the boot intact as he kicked the Titans clear to a 30-24 lead with 9 minutes remaining.
The Tigers season ended in dramatic fashion in the 72nd minute as Tigers captain Robbie Farah attempted a touch finder from a 20 metre re-start. The ball came off the side of Farah’s foot and failed to find the line. Instead the ball found Mat Rogers who beat the desperate attempted tackle from Farah and then he set off downfield. Rogers found Tagataese in support who had a clear run to the line. Prince missed the kick but the Titans now had a handy 10 point lead with 7 minutes remaining. The Titans played the remainder of the game out comfortably, forcing a couple of line drop outs from the Tigers while Prince kicked a penalty goal after an attempted line drop out touch finder from Marshall landed out on the full.
The Titans recorded a 36-24 win to give them a 11 from 12 win record at home, and most likely end the Tigers season in doing so…
Onto the players:
1. Moltzen - Clearly played injured as he failed to run the ball from the back, preferring to offload to Rhys Hanbury all night. Copped a couple of heavy knocks but bravely battled on. Got stood up well by Campbell for the Titans opening try but also came up with a try saver in the first half on a runaway Titans winger. Positionally he had a difficult night when dealing with the Titans short kicking game on the Tigers line. Hard to blame him for that though. Did well to put Hanbury in for his first try too. 54 metres in attack, 4 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 3 tackle breaks, 4 errors, 1 linebreak and 1 try assist.
2. Hanbury - Not a bad game from Rhys. He was given plenty of ball from Moltzen and came up with 2 tries for his efforts. 134 metres in attack, 2 tries and 2 linebreaks. Good game under the circumstances.
3. Collis - Quiet. Didn’t get much ball and when he did he was easily contained on all bar one occasion. Defence was ok but struggled against Mark Minichello a couple of times. 28 metres in attack, 13 tackles and 2 missed tackles.
4. Lawrence - Tried hard. Defended well and got across the line in the first half only to be held up. Nice catch and pass for Hanbury’s second try but came up with a couple of errors in the second half where he lost the ball in attack. 88 metres in attack, 17 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 2 errors, 1 linebreak assist.
5. Ayshford - Under an injury cloud all week but managed to play. Wing isn’t his spot but he went ok there all the same. Had to do a bit of work coming off the Tigers line in attack and he got hammered a couple of times but overall Ayshford was ok. He’s much better off in the centres though. 68 metres in attack, not much to do in D.
6. Marshall - Good game from Benji. Scored the Tigers opening try and looked dangerous throughout the match. Did well to help set up Hanbury’s second try. Goalkicking let him down again tonight with 3 misses. Otherwise his general kicking game was fine. 59 metres in attack, 6 tackles with 3 missed, kicked for 310 metres.
7. Lui - Still needs to work on his defence but like Lawrence has improved, I’m sure Lui will too. Looked good with the ball a couple of times and came up with one good break. His hands let him down a couple of times though. I think he could have a similar impact in 2010 to what Moltzen has had in 2009. 83 metres in attack, 11 tackles, 3 tackle breaks, kicked for 117 metres.
8. Galloway - Good game from KG. Ran hard as always and hit hard in defence. Forced to do more tonight with the suspension of Gibbs and injury of Skandalis. 113 metres in attack, 19 tackles.
9. Farah - Mostly very good, bar two incidents which were costly. He kicked out on the full in the second half and his attempted touch finder from a 20 metre re-start was costly. Farah’s head dropped when the Titans scored from that play and he knew that was the Tigers season right there. Otherwise he was very good, 2 tries, a try saving tackle and generally a crafty game. 41 metres in attack, 36 tackles, 8 tackle breaks, 1 linebreak assist, 2 linebreaks, 1 error and kicked for 110 metres.
15. Galea - Felt sorry for him having to play in the front row, but he defended well as usual, but hitting it up the middle he tends to struggle as he cannot roll forward like a traditional prop. 61 metres in attack, 23 tackles, 3 missed tackles and 1 error.
12. Payten - Solid game from Todd and he tried hard all night. Defended well and did his best with the ball in hand. 100 metres in attack, 14 tackles.
11. Ellis - Didn’t make as many metres tonight, but geez he was everywhere in defence and he hit like a sledgehammer all night. Really gave it his all but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get the Tigers home. 62 metres in attack, 30 tackles with 4 missed.
13. Heighington - Down a little in attack but he tried hard and went alright despite playing with a crook knee. Finished the game in the front row which says something about the team selection tonight. 72 metres in attack, 23 tackles with 3 missed.
14. Morris - Got about 22 minutes gametime in the second half. Tried hard but had limited impact. Defended well around the ruck. 25 metres in attack and 16 tackles.
16. Payne - Tried hard as usual but limited impact in attack. Defended well. 51 metres in attack, 14 tackles
17. Skandalis - Hindsight is a wonderful thing as the big fella should not have taken the field. He rolled the dice though and it came up bad, with Skando re-injuring his corked leg from the look of it.
18. Halatau - Played the last 24 minutes and went ok, ran straight and hard and busy in defence and could have been used earlier IMO. 36 metres in attack with 7 tackles.
Attack - Not as fluent as last week but the Tigers tried hard and came up with a few good pieces of play. The forwards tried hard but lacked some size and grunt with Gibbs suspended and Skando not lasting long. The backline saw a bit of ball but the Titans were quick and numbered up well for the most part. Benji didn’t take the line on as much as I would have thought and Lui looked ok a couple of times but it’s obviously still a learning curve from him and he needs a full off-season with the top squad.
Defence - At times it was very good, with the forwards aiming up and hitting the Titans hard, particularly Ellis who thumped anything that moved. Ultimately though the Tigers were very poor at defusing short kicks defending their line and the Titans scored 2 tries from the Tigers failing to stop the offload.
Kicking game - Better than last week although it still wasn’t good enough to trouble the Titans. Benji forced one line drop out and found open space a few times, Farah’s kicking game wasn’t as good and he shanked one out on the full as well as failing to find the line with his 20 metre re-start. The Tigers kicking game needs work if they are to make a serious impression in 2010.
With the game in the balance with 10 minutes remaining, it was frustrating to see the Tigers lose their way and ultimately their season. Mathematically they can make the finals but they need results to go their way next weekend, as well as winning themselves. After struggling for much of the season which included a few close losses to teams such as the Broncos, Bulldogs, Storm, and Souths, the Tigers could have found themselves in the Titans position had these games resulted in wins. They didn’t however and again, we as Tigers fans are left to lament another season where the Tigers have got themselves into a position where they could make the finals only to fall short at the final hurdle again.
Next week sees the Tigers take on the Bulldogs. I’m not optimistic the Tigers can make the 8 as it’s never a good situation in having to rely on other results, but the Tigers will turn up and hopefully get a win. Whether it’s enough to make the finals, only time will tell.
One of the more painful reports to type, but I hope you found it informative all the same.