Tigers confident of finals raid
The Wests Tigers remain a realistic chance of playing finals football following their spirited 36-24 come-from-behind win over the Warriors on Sunday afternoon.
A loss in New Zealand would have ended the Tigers' 2016 season for good, but despite trailing with 10 minutes to go, the understrength black and golds found another gear to set up a showdown with the Raiders at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
In a backs-against-the-wall effort, the Tigers seemingly won the key moments when it mattered most.
Kevin Naiqama somehow managed to knock the ball out of Solomone Kata's hands when he looked destined to score, Luke Brooks landed a 40/20 despite being denied earlier in the half and Jordan Rankin landed six goals from six attempts in tough conditions.
Five-eighth Mitchell Moses said the players were aware of their fate on Sunday, but revealed it wasn't discussed at all in the sheds before the game.
"We were pretty much playing for our season," Moses said after he and his teammates touched down at Sydney airport on Monday.
"It wasn't spoken about at all. The players knew, but it wasn't spoken about. We were just taking it game by game and we knew that everything else would sort itself out.
"It was a pretty weird game to be in [because] it was a bit end-to-end and we didn't have many good-ball sets in their half. We knew we just needed to hang in there and we'd score some points."
While late tries to Moses and Kevin Naiqama got them over the line, the Tigers five-eighth praised his big men up for front for getting the side over the line.
Skipper Aaron Woods was immense, scoring a try and setting another one up in a first-half performance that saw him run for a whopping 141 metres. He received terrific support from fellow front-rower Sauaso Sue who crossed for a rare double.
Moses said their absence through the middle stages took a toll on the team with the Warriors running in two quick tries while they were off the field.
"Woodsy was massive. I think when he went off in that stint, they scored some points," Moses said.
"Having him back out there when the game was on the line was massive for us. I think Jesse Sue was outstanding for us. He scored a double and carried the ball up every time so he was massive for us."
Victory ensured the Tigers remain in the hunt for the first finals appearance since 2011, but only a win against Canberra on Sunday afternoon – and a Titans loss against the Cowboys the night before – would see them sneak into eight spot.
Sunday's match will be the first time the sides have met since the Green Machine trounced the Tigers 60-6 in Round 8.
The 54-point shellacking capped a six-game losing streak that threatened to send the Tigers' campaign into disarray, but Moses said the night in the nation's capital helped turn their season around.
"I think that was massive for us. I think from that game onwards, we've won nine or 10 games so it was probably something we needed. We'll watch a bit of video to see what went wrong in that game and then try to fix that," he said.
"It wasn't us. We'll learn from that and look to get the win on the weekend.
"We're just going to worry about ourselves. We can only control what we can control so we'll look to do a bit of video on Canberra and look forward to our game.
"We're in a position to make the semis at the moment and there's no better place to play at than Leichhardt. Hopefully we get a big crowd down there and they can cheer us on like they did against the Cowboys."
One man who won't be at Leichhardt is James Tedesco as he continues to recover from a broken jaw.
His mere presence at the airport on Monday raised questions as to whether he could be in line for a shock return in Sunday's crucial contest, but Moses hosed down any speculation the star fullback would play against the Raiders.
"I think he's two or three weeks off. I'm not sure if he's back for the semis if we make it, but we'll just worry about ourselves for the moment and he'll worry about himself," the 21-year-old said.
"The boys love having him around and everyone gets an extra leg when he's around and feels more confident when he's around the team."
Sunday's game will have no bearing on the top eight if the Gold Coast Titans manage to upset the Cowboys in Townsville, but Moses is hoping a North Queensland legend can forget the 2005 grand final and do his side a favour.
"It'll be a tough trip for them (the Titans) going up to North Queensland to play that game, so hopefully Johnathan Thurston and the boys really put on a show."