Wests Tigers v Cowboys: Five key points
One of the most impressive performances in recent years from the Wests Tigers helped them shut down the premiers with a determined 26-14 win at a pulsating Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Moses stands tall… again
With partner in crime Luke Brooks sidelined with a knee injury and Jack Littlejohn promoted after not playing an NRL game since Round 1, there was always going to be plenty of pressure on Mitch Moses to control proceedings for the Tigers. As he has made a habit of lately, he delivered.
His kicking game was on point, he took good options, he shared the load well with Littlejohn when he needed to but demanded the ball at the right times.
As one of the lightest players in the NRL Moses will always be a target for big forwards to run at but even Moses' defence was exemplary on Sunday. He made 18 tackles and missed none. The highlight was an effort throwing himself in front of a rampaging Matt Scott close to his own line.
"Mitch really, and he has done it even when Brooksy's there, he's quite dominant and talkative so Mitch was in control of our game," Taylor said.
"We knew Jack Littlejohn would do a good job which he did… Mitch had done most of our kicking in the first half and we wanted to get Jack into that in the second half and he put in a couple of kicks that were really crucial, one that got us a repeat set, he supported Mitch really well.
"Then as Mitch got tired late in the game he was handing over a fair bit of that responsibility to Jack which again is just a great sign of Mitch's maturity. Most young guys [will say] 'well I'm in charge here and I'm just going to keep running it'; he allowed Jack to take some of the reins there late in the game which was great leadership and maturity."
Cowboys not worried by away woes
The loss at Leichhardt Oval means the Cowboys now have a 3-7 away record this season. Their three wins on the road makes them the worst travelling team this year of anyone other than the Dragons, Roosters and Knights.
That does include two matches where they were missing their Origin contingent and almost all the losses have been close.
Coach Paul Green wasn't too worried by the numbers as long as his team can perform better than they did against the Tigers.
"That old chestnut," he smiled when reminded of the team's away form in the post-match press conference.
"If you want to talk about the away record it's more about how we play. There's been a couple of below par performances away but there's also been some good performances where we just haven't won.
"We lost to the Storm by a point, we lost to Brisbane by a point, both good teams and we played well that night so it's more about the performance but [against the Tigers] we were below par."
Kick-pressure the name of the game
When the other team has the game's best player, you'd want to have a plan to combat the threat he poses. The Tigers well and truly ticked that box on Sunday.
It seemed every time Johnathan Thurston wanted to kick the ball, he had to do so with a Tigers forward racing up in his face. They harried and hassled the three-time Dally M winner to the point he put two attacking kicks out on the full (normally you'd be lucky to see two of those in the same season from Thurston, let alone the same game).
They smashed him time and again and while he kept on picking himself up like the champion that he is, his impact was well and truly blunted. The Tigers won the mini battle and it helped them win the war.
"We knew we had to get up in JT's face and frustrate him a bit," Tigers fullback James Tedesco said after the game.
"Our forwards did a great job of that, we had a big focus on kick pressure and we knew JT does most of their kicking, we knew we frustrated him there at times and he's the best player in the game so you've got to do that to shut the whole team down."
Unheralded pack gets the job done
Even forgetting about backline stars like Thurston, Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote, the Cowboys' star studded forward pack is what sets the platform for so many of their wins and allowed those skilful players to weave their magic.
Facing off against big names like Test players Scott, James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo and further representative players like Gavin Cooper and Ben Hannant means many teams are on the back foot from start to finish.
Match those names against as unheralded a pack as the Tigers – take out skipper Aaron Woods and there aren't too many representative caps between Sauaso Sue, Ava Seumanufagai, Chris Lawrence, Tim Grant – and you may expect a tough afternoon for the Tigers. Doubly so given one of their real forward leaders, Kiwi Test lock Elijah Taylor, went off concussed after around 15 minutes and didn't return.
But all of those names aimed up and it proved critical in the final wash-up.
"They're a massive pack, they're an international pack," said Woods after the game.
"We spoke about trying to limit Scott and Tamou and I still thought they did a really good job but we just wanted to go out there and play our own game, we just wanted to back ourselves, just get up in front of them and do a job for the side."
Jason Taylor said the forward battle was where the game was won, plain and simple.
"Before the game, the biggest job for us was going to be handling their forward pack because if we let them roll down the middle of the field and get quick play the balls it's too hard to stop Thurston and Coote and Morgan, we would never have been in the game.
"It's a massive improvement for us in that area. It's really, really exciting and it's a credit to the players led by Woodsy in the way that they've applied themselves to improving us in that defensive area in the middle of the field, it's been awesome."
The Leichhardt effect
As much as any Tigers player past or present will speak in glowing terms about the privilege of playing at one of the sport's most charming suburban grounds, the club hasn't actually been that successful there of late, with just two wins in the previous six matches played at the venue.
Sunday's game though was a rarity: it was a day game, the club entered the match in good form, the rain stayed away, and the crowd turned out in huge numbers and in full voice.
When Tedesco's final-minute try got the green light the roar was so loud that one out-of-town journo, madly filing for deadline, almost jumped out of their seat, so startled were they by the massive eruption of noise around Leichhardt's open-air press box.
After the game the players were in no doubt that the 14,246 parochial home fans helped get them over the line.
"I love Leichhardt Oval crowd; you've got to be in the team running out to experience it and there's no better feeling than coming here and playing here, you can't beat it," winger David Nofoaluma told NRL.com.
Coach Jason Taylor added: "The crowd was miraculous. That support. There's no doubt it puts some pressure on referees, it puts pressure on everyone with the crowd cheering like that."
Even Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott gave the Leichhardt faithful some credit.
"It's obviously a very vocal home crowd. It's a pretty good stadium to play at, I've got to admit I do enjoy it," he said.
"I think it's a great suburban ground. Certainly a little bit of preferential treatment [from the referees] due to the crowd but they obviously lift, we haven't won here in a long time so I thought [on Sunday] we could have done that but we were just well below par."