Wests Tigers v Raiders: Five key points
Monster kick-offs, bigger comebacks, a ghost put to rest and the spiritual home of the Wests Tigers up in the air. Here are five things we learnt from the Wests Tigers clash with the Raiders at Leichhardt Oval.
80 minutes is a long time in rugby league
While Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor bemoaned his side's inconsistent play post-game, it was Jordon Rapana's contrasting afternoon that best described the contest. The Raiders winger committed an error at dummy half on his side's first use of the football, then erred defensively to hand the Tigers first points in the ensuing set, before being penalised immediately after the re-start. But the second-year winger rebounded to break six tackles, run 106 metres, and score the match-sealing try in the 79th minute.
"It's good for his mental side of things. You make a mistake and you don't want to dwell on it. You talk about keeping your head up and moving on and Rappa did that straightway so it's a credit to him. He had a good game, and it's good to see him growing," skipper Jarrod Croker said.
Sticky's new poker face
His side had just reduced a 22-point deficit to 10 when substitute hooker Kurt Baptiste threw a careless pass forward out of dummy half, an act that normally would've mortified the passionate coach. However Stuart stood calmly on the sideline, and drew this clever comment from experienced commentator Andrew Voss.
"Ricky's gone all in with a 2 and a 7 and hasn't batted an eyelid," Voss called. By the end of the afternoon however, Stuart proved that his hand was no bluff as the Raiders fought all the way back to record a historic victory.
Croker has finally put Tigers demons to bed
Five years ago in a semi-final Croker botched a relatively easy shot against the Tigers that would've sent the game into overtime, and he missed a similar attempt against the same club in June last season.
Having only missed two goals in 2015 before Sunday's match, Jarrod Croker must've felt that the ghosts of missed goals past returned to haunt him when he failed to convert Jack Wighton's try that would have given them the lead.
However the Raiders skipper stepped up to the mark four minutes later and – despite some friendly chirping from the Tigers – coolly nailed a clutch 43-metre penalty goal to finally put the ghosts to bed.
"I'm just happy with the win. I don't think [the Tigers] were all over us, there was 13,000 of 'em hanging from the trees giving it to me as well," he said.
"I was a bit hesitant there [to go for the two points], but I wanted to kick it. I was a bit neutral I think and there was a few boys that were umm-ing and ahh-ing. But I decided in the end to take the two."
Richards feats reach new level
Croker revealed he was actually more worried about the ensuing kickoff from Wests Tigers magician Pat Richards, who twice was able to hang it up long enough in the fierce southerly for his team to regain possession in the second half.
"The main worry was the kickoff after it. But we got it back and thankfully we finished them off in the end anyway," Croker said.
So peerless is Richards' abilities with the kicking tee that commentator Andrew Voss felt he deserved his own social media hashtag: #patrichardsyoubloodymarvel.
That really could be the second last game at Leichhardt
The Tigers and the Leichhardt Council have still yet to come to terms on whether the club will play at the venue beyond their next clash against the Titans on June 5, but Sunday afternoon was yet another reminder of why the Tigers players enjoy their spiritual venue.
Spurred on by a vocal 13,000-plus crowd, the Tigers shot out to an early 22-0 lead with some exhilarating play between the likes of young stars Luke Brooks, James Tedesco and Tim Simona before falling away late in the game.
However coach Jason Taylor didn't sound overly optimistic of an agreement being done soon.
"The boys like to play here. I think everybody enjoys coming here. So that will be what it will be. Down the track, we'll play wherever we have to play," he said.