It hasn’t had the fanfare or been as exciting as the Wests Tigers’ fabled winning run in 2005, but their three back-to-back wins of late could prove monumental in the club’s history.
Despite winning the ’05 premiership after getting on a mid-year streak, it remains the Wests Tigers sole foray into semi-final football.
It looked for all money that 2009 was going to be another wasted year; however these past three successful weeks, capped off by a comprehensive win over the Raiders in Canberra, have well and truly kept the joint-venture side in the top-eight picture.
They are now just one win out of the top eight, with the Cowboys and Broncos apparently on the slide and desperately fighting to make it into September.
While Wests kept their hopes alive, play-off dreams were extinguished for Canberra on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital. Just as they’ve been for the majority of the season, Canberra were majorly disappointing.
They enjoyed 54 per cent of the possession and smashed the Tigers in metres gained, offloads and tackle breaks.
Soft mistakes gifted the Wests Tigers the lead – although Raiders coach David Furner will lament some questionable refereeing decisions in the opening 20 minutes of the match. In the lead-up to the Tigers’ first try, lock Corey Payne appeared to knock on at the back of the scrum. However, the referee ruled play on and in-form halfback Tim Moltzen stepped through some lazy defence to score.
Then after 15 minutes, Josh Dugan crossed for the home side, only to be controversially denied a try by the video ref for an obstruction.
But in the end, the Tigers were better side – with Canberra just bumbling from one mistake to the next.
A 70-metre intercept by Moltzen and some brilliance by fullback Shannon Gallant virtually sewed up the match for the Tigers by halftime – as they took a 19-0 lead into the sheds.
The Game Swung When: The Wests Tigers looked in control of this match from the opening whistle. They were aggressive and focused and there was no definitive moment where the match swung in their favour.
However, the point where they stuck the dagger through Canberra’s heart came in the 26th minute when Moltzen intercepted and scored. The Raiders were lost on the fifth tackle when Dugan tried to get away an offload. However, he succeeded only in popping it into Moltzen’s arms, and one of the game’s emerging stars sprinted away. The try came shortly after Dugan had been denied a four-pointer and it was a cruel blow to land. Unfortunately for Canberra they were on the canvas by halftime.
Who Was Hot: It seems Tim Sheens has pulled a masterstroke by moving Tim Moltzen to halfback mid-season. The move has had three major benefits:
First, Benji Marshall has looked more settled and calm being back in the No. 6 jersey. Second, Shannon Gallant has played brilliantly at fullback, the position where Moltzen started the year. And third, it seems to be Moltzen’s spot – he’s around the footy constantly and he’s got the ability to break open the opposition line.
Central Coast junior Moltzen scored two tries, made four tackle breaks, two line breaks and made a solid 19 tackles as well. He touched the ball 27 times, taking pressure off Marshall and Robbie Farah, and he ran for 171 metres from six carries.
Who Was Not: The Raiders in general were bad, but their halves gave them no structure or direction.
Five-eighth Terry Campese is still in his form slump and although he managed a try assist, it was only off a bomb. Campese and Herbert just battled to come up with any quality ball-play, and their last-tackle options were poor.
They didn’t get much help from hooker Glenn Buttriss either, who at times provided some pretty shabby service from dummy-half when Canberra were in attacking positions.
Campese and Herbert ran the ball just four times each and made little ground. Herbert made three errors and Campese also gave away a penalty.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed: Shannon Gallant came up with a bit of magic in the 33rd minute when he took full advantage of a tidy Todd Payten offload.
The Tigers were attacking the right edge, when Payten heard Gallant’s call. The man they call ‘Mighty Mouse’ burnt Phil Graham on the outside and sprinted down the touchline with remarkable speed.
With the cover arriving, Gallant summed up the situation expertly and put in a perfectly placed grubber towards the goal posts. Tigers players were queuing up for the spoils and it was John Morris who eventually touched down.
Injuries: Bench players were a chance of getting pneumonia as they waited to get on the field.
Refs Watch: The officials were poor both on the field and in the box in the first half. While not even David Furner could argue they cost his team the game, given the Raiders played so poorly, it certainly didn’t help their cause. The officials’ rulings changed the whole complexion of the game, and if Canberra had have got on the board early, who knows?
NRL.com Best & Fairest: 3 points – Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers): Looked dangerous with the ball and showed what raw speed he has when he finds some space; 2 points – Todd Payten (Wests Tigers): Ran a game-high 145 metres from his 17 runs. Also made 25 tackles and got away four important offloads which really got the Tigers on the front foot; 1 point – Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers): Worked hard all match, running 116 metres from 15 carries. Had a tackle break and 24 tackles and also ran a great decoy for Taniela Tuiaki’s second-half try.
Wests Tigers 25 (T Moltzen 2, J Morris, T Tuiaki tries; B Marshall 4 goals; R Farah field-goal) def Raiders 4 (D Vidot try) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 11,150.