The Wests Tigers kept their slim finals hopes alive, claiming an upset victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons 20-16, in what was the Dragons’ first home defeat of the season. Here are five things we learned from this game.
1 Robbie Farah still has plenty to offer at the top level
The mid-season signing of former skipper Robbie Farah by the Tigers has attracted much hype and fanfare. Debate raged over his value to the team, and whether he still has what it takes to be an NRL player after spending the bulk of the year so far playing for the North Sydney Bears in the Intrust Super Premiership.
Farah today showed that he still has plenty to offer the NRL, and that he is way too good to be languishing in reserve grade, as he put in a first class performance in both defense and attack.
Not only did he make 42 tackles (the most in his team). He also claimed 2 try-assists and forced multiple goal-line dropouts, piling the pressure on the Dragons relentlessly. If he keeps this form up, he and the Tigers will be partying like its 2005.
2 Dragons suffer Origin Hangover
The Dragons are clearly in the midst of an Origin hangover, as illustrated by subpar performances from some of their top players. While they both made over 30 tackles each, Jack De Belin and Tariq Sims were ineffective with the ball in hand. Both made uncharacteristic errors at crucial times, while neither managed to run for over 100m, despite them each having over 10 runs.
Tyson Frizell and Ben Hunt both had good games, while Paul Vaughan played well, making the most meters in his team with 159. However, Vaughan was aggravated a calf injury which he sustained in Blues’ camp, according to Brad Fittler. He came back on after the injury, but didn’t look quite the same in his third stint as he did in his first two, after aggravating the injury.
Luckily for the Dragons, they are in a very strong position and can afford to drop a few games heading into the finals. However, they will want to rid themselves of the Origin hangover sooner rather than later, and bounce back with a win over North Queensland next week.
3 Luciano Leilua shows his skills
The first-grade career of Luciano Leilua has been at best mixed so far. At times he has drifted in and out of games, made poor decisions in defense, come up with silly errors and failed to run hard in attack.
But today, the brother of Raiders’ centre Joey showed the NRL why he was such a sought-after talent in his youth. Coming on in the 63rd minute, Leilua wasted little time having an influence on the game. He showed his attacking intentions with a line-break in the 72nd minute, and laid on a try for fullback Matt Dufty with a beautiful inside ball close to the line.
He still has plenty of work to do (especially in defense) if he wants to be more than a 20-minutes-per-game impact player in first grade. But he showed today that if he does that, any team would be lucky to have him with the skills that he possesses.
4 Benji’s bombs do plenty of damage
It’s fair to say that Benji Marshall has quite a complete kicking game. He can force repeat sets with grubbers close to the line, he can clear the ball deep in his own half and he can produce remarkable touch-finders that give his forwards a break when they need it, and put his side in great field position (like the one he kicked in the last minute of play in this game).
However, his towering torpedo bombs are frightening for anyone who has get underneath them. I do not envy opposition fullbacks and wingers who come up against Benji Marshall.
Today, his bombs produced two crucial errors from the Dragons. The first came in the 54th minute when Marshall produced a torpedo that had over 5 seconds of hang time. Dragons fullback Matt Dufty committed the mortal sin of fullbacks – letting the ball bounce – as the ball came down between him and winger Kurt Mann. Gareth Widdop then knocked the ball on attempting to re-gather it, gifting the Tigers possession 20m out from the line.
The second error came in the 62nd minute, when Marshall produced a floater, which dropped short Mann at the last second. Mann fumbled the ball and the Tigers had 4 sets in a row on the Dragons’ line off the back of this mistake, coming away with a penalty goal after Widdop’s third dropout went out on the full.
A player of such experience, Benji Marshall has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. But his bomb is arguably one of the most damaging weapons in the NRL.
5 Forward pass rulings need urgent improvement
It’s never nice to be talking about referees, especially after witnessing such a tight and gripping contest as this. But it’s also not nice to have legitimate tries disallowed, particularly ones as picturesque as the one which Benji Marshall laid on for Michael Chee Kam in the 36th minute.
In what should have been one of the passes of the season, Marshall takes the ball all the way to the line before showing it to Moses Mbye (one to his right). He then double-pumps, cuts Mbye out and shifts the ball two to his right to Michael Chee Kam, who runs a brilliant line and goes in to score through a yawning gap. It was a move so beautifully deceptive, that it “fooled everyone in the stadium” according to Channel 9 commentator and 8th Immortal Andrew Johns.
The call wasn’t too costly in the end as the Tigers still came away with the two points. However, it would be such a shame to see a decision like this cost a team its season, or even a match, particularly considering some of the blatant forward passes that are regularly not pulled up (and even some during this game).
What did you learn from the Tiger's shock win over the Dragons? Let us know in the comments below.
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