ROUND 7: Wests Tigers v. Gold Coast Titans (Scully Park, 27/4/19)
The Tigers were desperate to make up for their disastrous loss at Bankwest last week when they travelled to Scully Park on Saturday night to meet Gold Coast, who were coming to terms with the depletion of both Ryan James and Jarrod Wallace from their forward pack. With Josh Reynolds dropping the footy on the kickoff, and the Titans getting a dropout thirty seconds in, it wasn’t surprising that Dale Copley almost crashed over on Gold Coast’s first attacking set, off a pair of wide passes from Mitch Rein and Tyrone Roberts.
Only a big effort from Mahe Fonua forced Copley to put a tiptoe on the sideline before he put the ball down, foreshadowing a game where Fonua would shine particularly brightly, and an opening twenty minutes in which the Tigers would manage to limit the Gold Coast surge to only two tries. Over the next couple of sets, the game hung in the balance, as the visitors continued to mount pressure, forcing the hosts to scramble their defence to prevent them making good on Copley’s run.
The Titans got their first big break when Moeaki Fotuaika managed to get a penalty from Chris McQueen for working on the ground, but Moses Mbye showed some good timing at the end of the set to get his team seven tackles. On their next set, Gold Coast managed to get a repeat, only for Fonua to spearhead a big defensive effort that saw Tyrone Peachey dragged across the sideline before he scould score.
Both teams made an early interchange, as Copley was taken off with a quad injury, replaced by Phillip Sami, and Reynolds was taken off with a hamstring injury, replaced by Elijah Taylor, with Ryan Matterson slotting into the five-eighth role. With both Benji and Reynolds off the field, the Tigers were struggling more for depth, although Matterson would prove his mettle in the halves soon after.
A few sets later, Robbie Farah came close to scoring, but the goal post got in the way, while Rein followed up with a confident tackle to prevent Robbie getting an arm loose. With Peachey getting his side a seven tackle set at the end of it all, and Sami making a dexterous run up the left side of the field on the fourth tackle, the Titans had laid the platform for their first try, which came off a crossfield kick from Tyrone Roberts that found Anthony Don right on the chest.Embed from Getty Images
The contest barely seemed to happen, as Don outplayed both Corey Thompson and Robert Jennings in the air, taking control of the Steeden and dashing around behind the posts to set up Michael Gordon for one of the easiest conversions of the night. The Tigers got a penalty at the start of the next set for an infringement in the play-the-ball from Shannon Boyd, and Alex Twal made a good run at the line on the third tackle. But it came to nothing when Matterson made a botched pass under some big pressure from Roberts, who was clearly relishing being appointed Gold Coast captain.
Moments later, a risky offload from Fotoaika paid off, gaining Boyd some significant metres before Peachey scored on the next tackle. It was a showcase for the ex-Panthers, as Bryce Cartwright brought the football right into the line, before defying Farah and Mbye to pop it across to Peachey, who sliced through the defence for one of the softest tries of Round 7 so far. Not only did Gordon add the extras, but he added two more straight away when Twal was pinged for a slow peel on the back of an error from Esan Marsters.
So far, this had played like a condensed version of the Tigers’ starts in 2019, when they’ve tended to leak points quickly to the opposition. It was also bringing back bad memories of their game at Bankwest, when the opening surge of Parramatta points resulted in a win margin that neither team could have imagined. Nevertheless, the remainder of the game played like a condensed version of the Tigers’ aptitude in working their way back from an opening deficit, as they proceeded to put down six straight tries that brought the scoreline from 0-16 to 30-16, while preventing the Titans scoring another point.
Their next two tries both came off Matterson’s confidence and consolidation in the five-eighth role – a critical rallying-point for the team in both Benji and Reynolds’ absence. A few minutes later, Matterson slotted himself into the spine perfectly, collecting the footy after it moved through Farah and Brooks before breaking through the line right on the line. From there, he twisted a full 540 degrees before offloading to Marsters, who popped a high ball over to Fonua to score.
From the moment the ball left Farah’s hands, to the moment that Fonua ground it, the Tigers had synergized into one rollicking, rolling motion that immediately put the game back in their corner. Seven minutes later, Matterson was once again instrumental in laying the platform for points, sending through a deft last-tackle kick that curled up off Roberts, before Josh Aloiai scooted in to collect it, getting the Tigers another chance at the Gold Coast line.Embed from Getty Images
They made the most of it, as Mbye mirrored Matterson with a dexterous kick right on the line that Gordon simply failed to clean up, leaving the footy open for Robert Jennings to scoot in and scoop it up with one hand for another four points. So far, Jennings had barely got hand to ball, so seeing him score the first time he got decisive possession felt like a moment of consolidation and self-correction for the Tigers as a whole, proof that they could make up for their opening immediately.
So far, Marsters had made both of the conversions, and while he would only make one more – kicking at 50% this game – this was still a better start than he showed in his game against the Panthers. It felt right, then, that Esan was the next to crash over, thanks to some right edge movement that saw Matterson syncing perfectly with Brooks and Farah once again. A double pump from Mbye got the Titans interested, before Marsters collected it and scored off the hardest run of the night.
Hitting Gordon at speed, his ducked his way out of the tackle, eluding a couple of other Gold Coast players before responding to Cartwright and Peachey’s earlier linkup by disposing of them as the last line of defence. By the time he slammed the football down, it felt as if he’d started running at the end of the Penrith loss, putting his worst moment of 2019 behind him with each fresh step. While he shanked the conversion across the front of the posts, Marsters’ speed and strength was just what the Tiges needed to condense their last two tries into a genuine pointscoring streak.
It didn’t hurt, either, that they were now ahead – two points ahead – for the first time in the game, begging the question of whether Reynolds should even return if his hamstring let up. Matterson had played a role in setting up each of these three tries, and showed every sign of continuing to congeal with the Tigers spine if he was permitted to remain in the five-eighth role. As it turned out, he was the wild card that the home team needed to get back in the game, leading to a very different mood in the second stanza.
Eight minutes in, Taylor tried to repeat Roberts’ earlier combination with Don, but Thompson was too good this time, regathering the footy and bringing it back into the field of play. The Titans amped up their defence, managing to keep the home team down their own end for the first couple of tackles, but an accumulation of Gold Coast errors and penalties now paved the way for the next sequence of Tigers points.Embed from Getty Images
The first came on the third tackle of this set, when a dangerous tackle from Jai Whitbread piggybacked the Tigers back up the other end of the field. It took Kelly, Gordon and Taylor to hold up Chris McQueen over the line as the ex-Titan made a massive run on the fourth tackle, while Peachey took a big risk in letting a superb Brooks kick bounce over the sideline seconds before Thompson could get to it. For a moment, this felt like the kind of brinksmanship the Titans needed to get back into the game, but they never got close to seven tackles, as Cartwright made an error almost immediately, and Jai Arrow followed up with a strip on Fonua.
The Tigers now consolidated, with Brooks sending a wide ball across to Thompson, who was only just cleaned up on the left wing, but still managed to get a quick play-the-ball to Jennings, who dodged to the left of the defence before Gold Coast had even regathered following their tackle on Thompson. While Don had been able to execute a trysaver the first time around, he was left behind by Jennings’ initiative, which was so rapid that it felt like a deception play, gifting the Tigers a 22-14 lead once Marsters booted through his final conversion of the night.
Sixteen minutes in, some good Gold Coast momentum culminated in yet another seven tackle set for the Tigers, setting the scene for a terrific one-man show from Brooks, who grubbered on the last, before regathering the footy after the Titans failed to come up with it. From there, Brooks made his way to the right side of the attack, slipping about fifteen minutes from the sideline, but still managing to get the offload to Fonua just before he hit the turf.
All Fonua had to do was collect the Steeden and slam over, for a try that was so improbable that Gold Coast didn’t have any defensive options. While Marsters might have missed the conversion, the Tigers were still two converted tries ahead. Even better, Fonua had enjoyed his best game for the black and gold to date, bookending their sublime tryscoring sequence with eight points of his own. This marked the end of the Tigers’ surge of points, and would have been a resounding victory if they’d remained at a 26-14 lead.
It was the icing on the cake, then, when Fonua added a last-minute try four minutes out from the end, as if stealing back the consolation try that Gold Coast were desperate to score during these final sets. More like an epilogue to the Tigers’ tryscoring surge than anything else, these final four points were a motivator for them to continue this form when they take on a Roosters outfit pumped from their ANZAC Day win at the SCG next week. Meanwhile, the Titans must have been shocked by how quickly the game changed, and will be keen for an away win when they travel to Townsville to meet the Cowboys on Friday night.
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