Wests Tigers playmaker Adam Doueihi erased the memories of one of the darkest nights of his fledgling NRL career with a starring role in his team’s 24-20 upset of Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Lebanon international scored a try, created another, kicked four goals from as many attempts including two from the sideline, and combined with enigmatic halves partner Luke Brooks to guide Wests Tigers to their first win of the season.
The visitors led 18-10 early in the second half only to relinquish that advantage and trail 20-18 with 10 minutes to go against a Newcastle team trying to celebrate halfback Mitchell Pearce’s 300th game with a win.
But Doueihi and Brooks stayed calm and composed and forced mistakes from the Knights under the high ball that ultimately led to David Nofoaluma’s winning try in the 73rd minute.
Match: Knights v Wests Tigers
Round 3 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
“I don’t think we can under-estimate it. It was obviously a big win – Pearcey’s 300th game, packed house here in Newcastle, they’re coming off two wins and we were coming off two losses,” Doueihi told NRL.com after the game.
“We thought we were dominant in that first half but made a few silly errors. I thought we could have been more clinical and me and Brooksy could have stayed a bit more composed, and we thought we did that in the second half.
“For them to come back and score two tries and hit the lead with 10 minutes to go, and for us to fight our way back to victory is a huge effort for us.”
Doueihi picks out the Brooks kick
In the corresponding game seven months earlier, an inconsolable Doueihi was in tears after a 44-4 loss to Newcastle just days after a deadly waterfront explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
He was already struggling emotionally because of his Lebanese heritage and family ties to Beirut, and that was the Wests Tigers’ third straight loss in a string of eight defeats from their last 10 games.
But Doueihi hopes the upset of the Knights kick-starts their season and boosts their confidence heading into an Easter Monday showdown with unbeaten Parramatta at Stadium Australia.
“It was big personally for me, and a big confidence boost for myself getting that first win in the five-eighth role, and me and Brooksy were really pleased with the side’s effort after the game,” he said.
“But we’re not going to get too carried away. We’re not a bunch that gets carried away so we’ll stay tight knit this week and hopefully look to ambush Parra next week.”
Nofoaluma dives over from the scrum
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire praised his halves, and their teammates for rallying around them all week, and he was pleased they could all leave Newcastle with a spring in their step.
Doueihi’s try came from a Brooks cross-field bomb in the 21st minute, Doueihi threw the final pass for Tommy Talau’s try in the 10th minute, and Brooks put giant forward Stefano Utoikamanu into the clear for a try six minutes into the second half to stretch their lead to 18-10.
“It was a tough night for him that night, but it’s good to see all the players in the change room with a smile on their face,” Maguire told reporters.
“The boys are growing. That’s the one thing I took out of the game today.”
Doueihi said Wests Tigers had not panicked despite the outside noise generated by their heavy losses to the Raiders and Roosters in their first two games.
“It doesn’t help going 0 from 2 but we knew that outside, everyone was going to start bagging us and start writing us off but we’ve stayed confident and believed in ourselves all pre-season,” he said.
Maguire said his players had been in a positive frame of mind all week.
“I thought that came out in today’s game, just the attitude to fight to the end and stick together and look after each other, and that obviously paid off at the back end,” Maguire said.
Pearce tries to lift his team with picturesque midfield break
“The last two weeks, the results didn’t reflect who we are at times but I thought today, the way the boys came together when they were facing a fair bit of adversity, that was probably the pleasing part of what I saw.
“We can be a much-improved team from what we saw out there today too, with what I’m seeing within the group. I think the growth within the team is huge, so it’s just about the attitudes towards the amount of work we want to do together to keep growing.”