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Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys
Famous Matches

Grand Final 2005

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The pivotal moment of the 2005 grand final was as unexpected as anything that ever came out of left field.

Benji Marshall, the 20-year-old with magic in his hands and lightning in his feet was at the centre of it and winger Pat Richards, who had no business even being there, finished off a try that will rank as one of the greats of grand final history.

The Moment happened in the critical period leading up to the halftime break. Score was 6-all. After a positive set of tackles, Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston kicked deep to the corner from the Tigers’ 40, where fullback Brett Hodgson retrieved the ball three metres from his own line. In support was Marshall, who had been defending on the left wing. The Cowboys’ chase was staggered and Marshall speared past the kicker, Thurston and dragged himself out of the attempted tackle of winger Matt Sing. He left Cowboys’ interchange David Faiumu in his wake as he hit top speed and crossed into Cowboys’ territory. He was near the Cowboys’ 40 when he encountered fullback Matt Bowen, looming cross-field in cover defence. By this time, Richards was positioned for Marshall’s reverse pass, which would give him a shot for the line. But instead of the more standard hand-off, Marshall added flourish with a flick of the wrist that was almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

The ball floated into Richards’ hands and he set sail for the line, 38 metres down-field. Even then the try was no formality. Richards was only playing after having six painkilling needles jabbed into his right ankle and he also had Cowboys’ defender Rod Jensen between him and the prize. But the ankle was mobile enough and a palm took care of Jensen before Richards touched down.

The headline writer in the next day’s Australian got it just right, even if he did borrow a line from an old ad slogan. “One Flick And They’re Gone” it said, encapsulating the moment and the game perfectly.

Tigers coach Tim Sheens labelled the try “the biggest play of the game” but was still shaking his head at fulltime at Marshall’s flick pass. “He’s been doing it all year so why stop now,” he reasoned.

The try delivered unstoppable momentum to the Tigers and ensured the crowd was at fever pitch throughout the second half. It had been a long wait for supporters of the joint venture club. Fans of the old Balmain club hadn’t celebrated a premiership win since 1969 and for Wests supporters it was even longer – the Magpies won their last grand final in 1952.

And as unpopular as the shotgun marriage of the two traditional clubs was in 1999, the events of October 2, 2005 bonded the two outfits into an unshakeable union. There was a sense of that as the Tigers increased their lead after halftime; hooker Robbie Farah sending prop Anthony Laffranchi into a gap for 18-6 and although the Cowboys responded when their most dangerous player, Thurston set up captain Travis Norton 15 minutes into the second half, the Tigers had plenty in reserve.

Halfback and captain Scott Prince, who would later be named as the 20th winner of the Clive Churchill medal, drifted across-field and showed the ball to three defenders before centre Shane Elford released winger Daniel Fitzhenry on a short dash to the line.

Brett Hodgson’s sideline conversion restored the 12-point lead and the Tigers’ confidence soared even higher. They scrambled in defence, survived some dangerous moments and most importantly they held their nerve. Sing squeezed across for a try from a Thurston cut-out pass two minutes from fulltime, but when Josh Hannay’s conversion attempt failed the Tigers were eight points clear and in the safety zone. Prop Todd Payten provided the crowning moment when he chased a Hodgson kick to the in-goal to score in the final minute of play.

The Tigers’ victory was acclaimed as a fairytale, replete with its own Prince, but it was also a miracle. Despised as 150/1 outsiders at the end of June, the Tigers were young and inexperienced, their forward pack was too small, they had no current State of Origin representatives and they had only two players (Hodgson and centre Paul Whatuira) with previous grand final experience.

But an eight-match winning streak leading into the finals bonded the team tightly and a run through the play-offs that netted them the scalps of the Cowboys, Brisbane and St George Illawarra reinforced and bolstered the players’ self-belief.

The win was a triumph for unfashionable forwards John Skandalis, who started with Wests in 1996, and Mark O’Neill from Balmain, who waited longer than any player in premiership history for a crack at the finals. He suffered the disappointment of losing the captaincy to Prince and being told he was not wanted by the club beyond 2005, but he plugged away and continued to work hard for his team-mates. “He is so passionate about this club and this team. Nobody, absolutely nobody, deserves this like he does. He has always put the team before himself and it’s about time he got the rewards,” said team-mate Todd Payten.

The Cowboys were worthy grand finalists, but could not match the Tigers for momentum. They let themselves down with handling errors, especially the wayward in-goal pass by centre Paul Bowman, which led to the Tigers’ first try.

They toiled hard for the 80 minutes and showed flashes of their attacking brilliance but in the end were beaten at their own game by a team with the ability to produce something out of nothing – something right out of left field.

Qualifying final 2005

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Not even the most optimistic Tigers’ player could have anticipated the outcome of the opening night of the 2005 finals series, when the Sydney joint-venture side pummelled the North Queensland Cowboys 50-6 at Telstra Stadium.

After losing their last two regular round matches, plenty of critics had written the Tigers off for the finals series . . . something coach Tim Sheens was happy with as long as his team kept believing in themselves.

And that they did, as they went about dismantling the Cowboys defence in an eight-tries-to-one demolition.

Fullback Brett Hodgson scored a record-breaking 30 points with three tries and nine goals – the most ever by an individual in a finals match.

After starting proceedings with a penalty goal, the Tigers increased their lead to eight points when centre Shane Elford scored in the 16th minute.

Using their now-trademark cavalier and exciting attacking brand of football, the Tigers shifted the ball from one side of the park to the other in quick time, giving Elford a free run to the line.

When precocious talent Benji Marshall packed in at lock from a scrum, picked up the ball and produced his mercurial step to attract two defenders before passing off to a flying Hodgson who raced 50 metres to score, the Tigers had cracked the game open at 14-0.

After getting back to 14-6 through a Matt Sing try the Cowboys, mathematically, were in the game at halftime – but the score was an impostor: they were way off the pace.

Their last-tackle options were too often dreadful, and they struggled with the Tigers’ running from dummy-half and agility in the rucks.

And while the Cowboys often struggled to get within 40 metres of their own line in a set of tackles against the persistently quick-moving Tigers’ defence, the Tigers were making 60 metres-plus in most sets.

The second half was a complete whitewash of dazzling Tigers attacking football.

Hodgson crossed for his second try just four minutes after the break when the team capitalised on a long Pat Richards break and when Daniel Fitzhenry dived over not long after the match was effectively decided at 26-6.

Instead of shutting up shop and grinding out the win the Tigers went for the jugular, scoring four tries in the final 15 minutes.

Centre Paul Whatuira crossed first, then back-rower Liam Fulton got in on the action before Hodgson completed his hat-trick.

Dene Halatau burst out of dummy half on a 30-metre dart before passing to Hodgson who ran a further 40 metres to extend the lead to 44-6.

Richards crossed out wide in the dying moments to give Hodgson the chance to bring up the half century, and he landed the conversion with ease.

A shell-shocked North Queensland coach Graham Murray didn’t attempt to hide from the truth.

“There were two sides out there, one playing too quick,” he said.

“We just couldn’t stick with them – didn’t matter what it was, attack or defence. They were brilliant and should be commended.

“I thought they might have doubted themselves after two losses, but they certainly had no doubts.”

Round 4, 2007

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Elusive fullback Matt Bowen scored a brilliant individual try then kicked a late field goal to steer North Queensland to a thrilling 25-24 win over the Wests Tigers at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

Without rugged prop Carl Webb and after losing Test second-rower Luke O’Donnell with a serious hamstring injury, the Cowboys fought back from a 24-16 deficit midway through the second half to claim their fourth win of the season in the final minute of play.

A 65-metre intercept by centre Ashley Graham brought the Cowboys back into the contest before Bowen beat four defenders in one of his typical stepping, jinking bursts for the line.

Then, after captain Johnathan Thurston kicked to the corner and forced a turnover, Bowen stepped up to land the one-pointer with time almost up.

The defeat was another heartbreaker for the Tigers, following their golden point loss to the Eels a week earlier. “We didn’t finish the game off – we’ve got some issues within ourselves,” said coach Tim Sheens. “I was never confident, we were always letting them back in.”

Cowboys officials called for action to be taken against two Wests Tigers’ players after O’Donnell was found to have torn his hamstring from his pelvic bone in an awkward “wishbone” tackle. He was later ruled out for the season.

Round 19, 2009

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Wests Tigers kept their season alive when they swept past North Queensland to win 34-14 at Leichhardt Oval but there was only one talking point in the aftermath of this game – the 1970s style stoush between rival hookers Robbie Farah and Anthony Watts.

It began with a scrum 20 metres from the Cowboys’ line midway through the first half. Wests Tigers halfback Benji Marshall picked up the ball from the scrumbase and skirted across field, throwing dummy after dummy before eventually deceiving the defence sufficiently to score at the corner. Meanwhile, back where the scrum packed down Farah was slowly rising to his feet with a nasty cut above one eye.

The incident fired up the Wests Tigers and fired up the big Leichhardt crowd who sensed that a “square-up” was imminent when the next scrum packed four minutes later. And right on cue, the scrum erupted as Farah dealt with his opposing number. “The ref told me to keep it short and sweet – and it was,” Farah said later.

Farah and Watts spent the next 10 minutes in the sin bin and both were later charged with striking.

The flare-up added spice to an entertaining contest and supplied the impetus for the Tigers to take a 16-8 lead to halftime. The Cowboys narrowed the margin to six points with a dummy-half try to prop Carl Webb but late tries to Corey Payne and Farah closed out a vital win for the home side.

Earlier, Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen scored the fastest try of the season when he crossed after just 45 seconds of the game.

Round 23, 2005

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Wests Tigers secured a place in the finals for the first time in the joint venture club’s six-year history by scoring a convincing 28-16 win over North Queensland.

After weeks of down-playing his young team’s chances in a bid to keep their feet firmly planted, coach Tim Sheens finally admitted that the Tigers were finals bound. “I think it would be difficult to be run down out of the eight from here, but I think what we’re really aiming at now is a better finish than that,” he said.

Indeed, experienced Wests Tigers players such as John Skandalis and Mark O’Neill predicted that the Tigers could go all the way. “I think we can win it. The mix of youth and experience is really working well for us at the moment and we are capable of scoring plenty of points,” Skandalis said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves but we look like we’re definitely in the finals now and you’ve got to be in it to have a shot at the title.”

Watched by a ground record crowd at Campbelltown Stadium, the Tigers rattled up a 28-4 lead midway through the second half, playing a similar brand of football that carried North Queensland to within one game of a grand final in 2004. Once again, five-eighth Benji Marshall stood out, along with fullback Brett Hodgson and winger Daniel Fitzhenry, who produced a number of key defensive saves.
Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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