WESTS Tigers produced their most spirited performance of the season to upset premiership heavyweights Melbourne 16-6 at a packed Leichhardt Oval.
Despite a late Storm onslaught that saw them come agonisingly close to drawing level on any number of occasions, the Tigers muscled up in defence – a real shortcoming in recent years – before a piece of Benji Marshall brilliance sealed the win in the dying stages.
It was a low-scoring game with the second half played in driving rain but the entertainment never waned as both sides tried desperately to stamp their authority.
And typical of the best Leichhardt Oval classics of the 1980s, this one had everything – missed opportunities, flashes of brilliance, monster hits and the obligatory disallowed tries.
Melbourne looked set to roll onwards and upwards early on when Greg Inglis produced a typically thrilling run, pushing off two defenders out wide to burst through and send Ryan Hoffman over for a 6-0 lead after just seven minutes.
But rather than put the cue in the rack, the home side hit back immediately.
Capitalising on a Melbourne mistake from the kick-off, Tigers hooker Robbie Farah grubbered behind the line and Tim Moltzen won the race virtually unchallenged.
Chris Lawrence then scored the first of his two tries when he stormed onto a perfectly timed Marshall pass to give his side a 10-6 lead that they would never relinquish.
The Game Swung When… Melbourne dropped the ball virtually from the kick-off after opening the scoring in the seventh minute.
At that stage it looked like they could run away with the game but Wests Tigers hit straight back to level when handed that unexpected opportunity and never trailed again as they muscled up in defence.
Who Was Hot… The Tigers boasted any number of powerful performers but none were better than centre Chris Lawrence, who scored two tries pulled off some bruising tackles in defence. Forwards Keith Galloway and Gareth Ellis were also solid for the Tigers while Robbie Farah orchestrated the play as usual from dummy-half.
Greg Inglis proved a constant threat for Melbourne in a side that otherwise struggled to penetrate the Tigers’ defence.
Who Was Not… It was a tough day at the office for Melbourne’s forwards, who were out-enthused up the middle of the park. With the exception of Jeff Lima, who ran for 122 metres, nobody topped the 100-metre mark – including Adam Blair who made just 74.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The pouring rain and howling wind made it a particularly tough night for fullbacks. In fact, it took both sides only a few minutes to realise the value of hoisting the ball high and then seeing what would eventuate.
The first indication came early when the Tigers were trapped deep inside their own territory after five tackles. Halfback Benji Marshall desperately kicked up field but with the wind at his back the ball flew over Billy Slater’s head and ran dead.
From that moment the ball started going high, with both Moltzen and Slater struggling to lay a hand on it as the wind took hold.
Injuries… Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers) – ankle, 0-1 weeks.
Refs Watch… Perhaps surprisingly given the woeful conditions in the second half, referees Shayne Hayne and Tony Archer produced excellent performances with a number of very good decisions that they were entitled to get wrong some of the time.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers): Ran for 134 metres, scored two tries and pulled off some crucial tackles throughout the game; 2 points – Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers): Worked tirelessly for the Tigers, running for 110 metres and pulling off 35 tackles for the home side; 1 point – Greg Inglis (Storm): By far Melbourne’s most dangerous player. Set up the opening try with a bust and broke through again in the second half in a rare Storm line break.
Tigers 16 (C Lawrence 2, T Moltzen tries; B Marshall 2 goals) def Storm 6 (R Hoffman try; C Smith goal) at Leichhardt Oval. Crowd: 12,046.