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A serious ankle injury to Wests Tigers utility Dene Halatau has soured an impressive 32-8 victory over Penrith in their first trial of the year at Kirkham Oval, Camden.
The former Bulldog buckled under a tackle in the third quarter and is likely to be out of action until May.
"He's broken his ankle and he's torn ligaments in his ankle. It looks like it's at least a four month injury. It's unfortunate and he'll probably get it operated on during the week if not earlier," said Tigers coach Mick Potter.
It was an otherwise positive night in what was the first game of the post-Benji Marshall era as the Tigers crossed for six tries to two in front of a ground record crowd of 5,041. But it was their resolute defence - summed up by a try-saving tackle on Josh Mansour by David Nofoaluma - that Potter was most pleased about.
"I thought our resilience in defence and our attitude was good. I wanted a bit of attitude and they showed it mattered to them," he said.
"They worked really well together. It's something we've been working on through pre-season and you don't take it for granted. We'll battle again in a fortnight's time with it. It's something we're building on. I was just pleased with our attitude."
Without the services of Robbie Farah, Luke Brooks, Keith Galloway and Liam Fulton, the Tigers asserted their dominance from the outset, scoring two tries in the first six minutes through Chris Lawrence and Curtis Sironen, with skipper Braith Anasta prominent early too.
A simple try in the corner to Nofoaluma meant the Tigers finished with a 14-0 lead after the first quarter, and while the Panthers improved markedly in the second, that's the way the score remained at halftime.
It took just four minutes for the home side to further extend its lead in the second half, with impressive forward James Gavet crossing over from close range before an excellent chase from Nofoaluma stopped a certain Mansour try in the 47th minute. The promising Tigers winger was sin-binned for extra attention but when Panthers winger Kevin Naiqama dropped the ball over the line soon after, the Tigers immediately raced down field and scored through new recruit Keith Lulia.
Penrith halfback Isaac John finally got his side on the scoreboard in the 60th minute, picking up the crumbs from a flying Eto Nabuli, who also crossed in the final quarter.
The Panthers were also missing a host of first-choice stars, including Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Brent Kite, Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor, Sika Manu and Nigel Plum.
Wests Tigers 34 (Lawrence, Sironen, Nofoaluma, Gavet, Lulia, Paterson tries; Richards 2, Austin 2, Anasta goals) defeated Penrith 8 (John, Nabuli tries).