Heartbreaking lesson for Tiger cubs
Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary hopes Saturday night's heartbreaking 24-22 Telstra Premiership loss to the Sharks serves as an important learning curve in the development of some of his younger players.
The Tigers looked home and hosed when Malakai Watene-Zelezniak crossed and then Tui Lolohea nailed the sideline conversion to move them ahead by eight points with 10 minutes remaining, but it wasn't to be as the Sharks punished a couple of errors to race in two late tries to steal the win.
With stars James Tedesco and Aaron Woods on State of Origin duty, it was the Tigers' cubs who stood up with Esan Marsters and Watene-Zelezniak scoring their first tries in the NRL, while Matt Eisenhuth was a standout performer on debut.
Unfortunately, Cleary's young brigade couldn't finish off what they had started, with the Wests Tigers slumping to their sixth-straight loss to sit level with the Knights at the bottom of the ladder on eight competition points.
"It doesn't feel too good for them at the moment, but that's what it's about," Cleary said after the game.
"You can't hope it's going to happen; you've got to take things into your own control and sort that out whether it's a tackle in defence [or something else].
"I thought we played really hard, especially in the second half when it was pretty clear the Sharks were always going to come out and put us under pressure. I thought we handled that really well.
"I thought the guys in the middle did a great job right throughout the game and we absorbed all that pressure and got into a position where we really should have closed the game out.
"To get to that position was really good; unfortunately you've got to close those games out. Hopefully next time we get in that opportunity – and I'm sure we will – hopefully we do a better job with it.
"At the end of the day, sometimes that comes back to a lot of guys being out there who are still trying to develop good habits to stand up under pressure in those types of situations. Hopefully tonight's a good lesson on how it needs to be done for the full 80 minutes."
Stand-in skipper Elijah Taylor produced a typically tireless effort in the middle of the field with 54 tackles and a try, and was clearly gutted with the way his side finished off the game.
"It hurts a lot, especially with the effort that we put in," he said.
"I thought we scrambled really well as a forward pack, we tried hard – especially in the second half when we were under the pump – but in the last five minutes we just didn't complete, and you need to complete against a team like the Sharks.
"We can't give them easy field position and they hurt us."