Dust off the 2005 ‘Premiers’ t-shirts and light the candles for your John Skandalis shrine, because the Wests Tigers appear headed for their first finals series in four seasons – but keep the flick passes in check for the moment at least.
Tim Sheens is cleverly keeping a lid on things at this stage, but off the back of a five-game winning streak the Tigers have nudged their way into the top eight for the first time since Round 8.
But the brand of football that has got them there – a more methodical and forwards-driven approach – is a far cry from the light-stepping, expansive game that delivered them their first premiership… but it is certainly effective!
On the other side of the ledger, the Roosters were again gallant in defeat but 2009 will go down has simply having not been their year.
The Tigers dominated possession early, off the back of several penalties and repeat sets, but couldn’t crack a stoic Roosters try line – before the Roosters turned defence into attack and came up with a try to Setaimata Sa in the corner off a well-timed Anthony Minichiello pass.
The Tigers continued to build pressure and it seemed only a matter of time before cracks would appear in the Roosters’ defence, but again they held up and scored a try against the run of play when Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored on the right flank after another strong run by Minichiello.
Down 8-0 after 20 minutes, the Tigers felt more pressure when impressive fullback Shannon Gallant succumbed to a calf injury and forced a reshuffle – but these Tigers are made of stern stuff. The fightback started when a superb cut-out pass from Englishman Gareth Ellis found dynamic winger Taniela Tuiaki on the chest – allowing the rampaging Tongan winger to grubber for himself and score one of the classiest tries of his career.
Benji Marshall missed the conversion, but the Tigers were back in the match ahead of the break and ready to warm up for their assault on the finals.
The Game Swung When… Mitchell Aubusson was cruelly sent to the sin bin in the 46th minute.
A bust by the Tigers down the left flank was stopped by Aubusson, who held onto the tackler for a millisecond too long and was harshly dealt with – 10 minutes on the sideline in what looked a harsh over-reaction. During the centre’s time on the sideline, the Tigers took the lead when the first of Beau Ryan’s two tries sent Tigers fans into raptures.
But if Aubusson’s sin-binning was when the game swung, then Tim Moltzen’s try-saving tackle in the 58th minute was when the game was won.
With Minichiello screaming away for what looked like being a leveling try Moltzen, who had been shifted from halfback to fullback mid-game, pushed the former Golden Boot winner to the sideline and then crunched him over it.
It was an experienced play from the youngster which would’ve drawn a smile from coach Sheens, and may yet be the reason why the Tigers make the eight this year.
Who Was Hot… Gareth Ellis must be applauded for not only his work rate, but the quality of his work. The second-rower made the most metres of any forward on the park and put in 17 bruising shots in defence – including an absolute ripper on rookie Rooster Stanley Waqa which lifted the Tigers’ intensity in defence.
Ellis also pushed plenty of second-phase play, producing five offloads which got the ball upfield quickly.
Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah were their usual enigmatic selves, running across field, throwing dummies and then producing the big plays (in Marshall’s case, a crucial 40/20, while Farah sealed the win with a drop goal).
Tim Moltzen was again good at fullback, and came up with big plays.
For the Roosters, Willie Mason ran with vigour, Sam Perrett was typically industrious, and Craig Fitzgibbon is making the most of his final games for the club.
Who Was Not… It was a high-quality contest where no player did their reputation much harm.
But Corey Payne deserves a mention for his laughable pass into the third row of the grandstand with the Tigers trying to work the ball off their own line in the second half. Payne’s form over the past month has been some of his best at the Tigers, but his work rate was down this weekend and that pass had coach Sheens considering retirement – Payne was hooked seconds later.
Also, Jake Friend didn’t leave his mark on the game, conceding soft penalties and failing to spark the Roosters’ attack.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… A dead-heat between Tuiaki’s solo effort of a quality grubber and regather, and Tim Moltzen’s magnificent try-saver. They were classy plays that showed these Tigers have broken away from the group of NRL ‘also-rans’.
Injuries…. A corked calf to Shannon Gallant forced the fullback from the field, but he should be okay to play the Sharks next week.
Refs Watch… The questionable sin-binning to Mitchell Aubusson had a huge impact on the game, while a no-try to Tuiaki highlighted the confusion between obstruction and the old-fashioned shepherd – something that earned the ire of Sheens post-game.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers): Ran for 138 metres, tried hard, smashed Waqa and provided lots of second-phase play; 2 points – Sam Perrett (Roosters): Tried hard, was virtually mistake-free, and had a real thirst for work, finishing with a game-high 168 metres; 1 point – Taniela Tuiaki (Tigers): Made 138 metres, scored an important try and lifted the crowd to their feet every time the ball went near him.
Wests Tigers 17 (B Ryan 2, T Tuiaki; B Marshall 2 goals, R Farah field goal) def Roosters 10 (S Sa, S Kenny-Dowall; C Fitzgibbon 1 goal) at the Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 16,427.