Tigers down Dragons in Benji's milestone game
Mitch Moses played a starring role as Wests Tigers shrugged off a week of drama around Robbie Farah's dropping to comfortably dispose of a lacklustre Dragons outfit 25-12 at ANZ Stadium.
With Farah on hand to watch proceedings after a strong showing in an Intrust Super Premiership win at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday, young halves Luke Brooks and Moses played with the type of dominance and freedom their coach wanted from them as the Tigers moved to within touching distance of the top eight.
Despite passages of strong play and intent from the Dragons, it was another afternoon of disappointment after big losses in their previous two games. Several fundamental errors and defensive lapses proved costly and again the team's sputtering attack failed to fire, registering just two tries for the afternoon.
The win came despite the Tigers being down to two fit players on the bench for the second half with prop Tim Grant (concussion, 24th minute) and back-rower Chris Lawrence (leg injury, 40th minute) finishing the match early.
The very early signs had been good for the Dragons, with some hard running and plenty of intent in the opening exchanges setting the scene for the opening try of the game.
Cashing in on a spilt bomb from Rankin a beautiful right-to-left sweep finished with a long cut-out pass from Quinlan to send Mann over for the first try of the day. As the home side continued to dominate the early exchanges they put the lead out to eight via a Widdop penalty goal.
From there the errors started to hurt the Red V and the attack-minded Tigers were happy to take advantage.
When Tariq Sims couldn't hang onto an ill-advised pass on halfway, the subsequent set allowed Moses to fire a brilliant ball out to Kevin Naiqama who sent Nofoaluma over in the 15th minute.
A high tackle penalty against Leeson Ah Mau – whose raised shoulder ended Tim Grant's afternoon with the former Rabbitohs and Panthers prop stretchered off after a long delay in play – got the score back to 8-6 via a Rankin penalty goal.
A silly last-tackle penalty at the end of the very next set against Sims for pulling the ball out in a tackle gave the Tigers an attacking set. It became a double black mark against the former Newcastle captain moments later when he was burned for pace as Luke Brooks streaked pass him to claim the lead for the first time after 26 minutes of play.
An awful missed tackle from Mitch Rein and Ah Mau in the very next set allowed Nofoaluma to sprint into a huge gap from inside his own territory and from there it was a simple matter to hand the ball off to James Tedesco looming up in support to ice a long-range Tigers try and an 18-8 half-time lead.
The Dragons started the second half with similar intent to that with which they started the first and, with the aid of a late-set penalty count and some belligerent running from centre Euan Aitken, were able to force a couple of repeat sets.
Roughly seven minutes of uninterrupted possession looked like finally amounting to points when rookie centre Taane Milne burst through but the try was disallowed due to yet another infringement from Sims for a clear obstruction, taking a defender out of the line in a big let off for the Tigers.
From there a brilliant, match-turning series of big plays from Moses turned the game on its head.
First he broke clean through the line, shrugging off an attempted tackle from Ah Mau, and it took a desperate last-ditch effort from the Dragons to drag support runner Tedesco down millimetres short of scoring.
From the Tigers' next set Moses launched a beautifully-controlled 40/20 kick to set his team on the attack again before demanding the ball near the line, challenging the defence, drawing a few defenders and producing a perfect offload for Josh Aloiai to score.
To their credit the Red V didn't disappear and launched plenty more at the Tigers, adding one more try when the impressive Milne broke through the line to put Quinlan over for the team's second try of the day, but at 24-12 with the clock ticking down a Moses field goal put the result beyond doubt.
Wests Tigers 25 (David Nofoaluma, Luke Brooks, James Tedesco, Josh Aloiai tries; Jordan Rankin 4 goals; Mitch Moses field goal) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Kurt Mann, Adam Quinlan tries; Gareth Widdop 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half-time: Wests Tigers 18-8. Crowd: 15,087.