There were some promising signs here for the Titans on the eve of the finals. They displayed not a trace of panic when they fell behind early. And when the scores were locked up with 20 minutes to go, they showed both poise and strike power to get the result. On a weekend when the only two sides ahead of them on the ladder either fell in a heap (St George Illawarra) or lost their playmaker for the bulk of September (Bulldogs), a grand final featuring the Titans is suddenly not such a long shot.
Mind you, they did put away a side that has made a specialty out of losing the close ones. Following the end of their 2009 campaign, the lesson yet again for Tim Sheens’ men is that noble losses marked by flashes of dazzling attack get you… nowhere.
The Tigers got off to a flyer, crossing twice to lead 12-0 after 10 minutes. Robbie Farah set up the first try and scored the second in what was the good part of a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance from the passionate rake.
Starved of ball to this point by a disciplined Tigers opening, the Titans kept their heads and set about working themselves into the game through adherence to basics. Once in position, Preston Campbell and Scott Prince had little trouble splitting the visitors open, and it was 12-12 after 25 minutes.
While the Tigers scored on the stroke of halftime to take a lead into the break, the Titans began the second half as though the momentum was theirs. Two tries put them comfortably in front, only for the Tigers to strike back with two of their own for a 24-all score with 20 minutes left. At this point, the visitors had scored five tries to four. And so, with the Tigers playing for their ’09 survival and the Titans keen to take a winning habit into the finals, the result would come down to who could play smartest under pressure. The answer, not surprisingly, was the team in third place.
The finals will be the poorer without the Tigers’ flair. But it’s been that way for four years now.
The Game Swung When… With the match in the balance at 24-all and a little over 10 minutes left, Robbie Farah cut a clearing kick a little too fine and sent it out on the full. Tigers fans would have known what was coming. In the next set, Mat Rogers signalled for Preston Campbell to dribble a grubber into the in-goal, and Rogers was there in a flash to collect the spoils.
From that point, with their season on the line, the Tigers had to roll the dice. With seven minutes on the clock, Farah attempted to find touch from a tap restart. Alas, the ball stayed in play and the chasers weren’t there, and Rogers cut the uneven defensive line to shreds for Sam Tagataese’s match-sealing four-pointer.
Who Was Hot… Mat Rogers and Preston Campbell were too sharp for the opposition to handle. The Tigers’ Gareth Ellis had a golden couple of minutes just before halftime, with a shuddering tackle on Luke O’Dwyer giving his team the ball, and his Benji Marshall-style flick pass leading to a Rhys Hanbury try.
Who Was Not… The Titans’ centre Sam Tagataese did some good things but also missed four tackles from 10 attempts. More concerning was the profound indecision he showed when put in the clear at 24-all. Torn between pinning his ears and setting up his winger, the youngster did neither, leading to a movement (and possibly coach) breakdown.
Farah’s late errors were costly but were committed in the name of pushing all-out for a win.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Strange as it may seem in a match featuring Benji Marshall, nothing in this match quite cleared the “unbelievable” bar, except perhaps for some decisions by video adjudicator Paul Simpkins (see below).
Bad Boys… None. The match was played in a fine spirit, epitomised by Marshall patting his former Tigers team-mate Prince on the head when the latter crossed for his team’s first try.
Refs Watch… Tony Archer and Bernard Sutton referred try decisions upstairs all night long. And video ref Simpkins must have thought he was Santa Claus, because he kept handing out presents. Having set a precedent by awarding Robbie Farah a try in the 10th minute without any evidence the Tigers hooker had reached the line under a pile of bodies, Simpkins was forced thereafter to extend the benefit-of-the-doubt concept to its limit, saying “yes” to anything that remotely resembled a try. The on-field refs otherwise maintained good flow, however, awarding just six penalties for the match.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Mat Rogers (Titans): A slick attacking display from the veteran yielded a try, two line breaks and 163 metres from 13 runs; 2 points – Preston Campbell (Titans): Always threatened with ball in hand, making 114 metres, and fearless in defence; 1 point – Keith Galloway (Wests Tigers): Gutsy display marked by 107 hard-earned metres and 20 tackles.
Titans 36 (S Prince 2, P Campbell, S Tagataese, M Rogers, L O’Dwyer tries; Prince 6 goals) def Wests Tigers 24 (R Hanbury 2, R Farah 2, B Marshall tries; Marshall 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Crowd: 20,102.