ROUND 9: Wests Tigers v. Penrith Panthers (Suncorp Stadium, 10/5/19)

The Tigers hadn’t scored once during the first twenty minutes in 2019 until Friday night at Suncorp, where they put down four straight tries by the twelve minute mark, bringing them to a rapid twenty-point lead after Esan Marsters added two conversions. Whether they were galvanised by their dramatic losses to the Roosters and Eels, or by their devastating loss to the Panthers earlier in the season, they looked like a different team from the moment they trotted out onto the park.

They got their first try of the night from the first penalty of the night – a flop from James Maloney that Benji Marshall followed with a deft pass that sent Luke Brooks through the line. Maloney tried to make up for his error, and came in for a low tackle, but Brooks managed to offload to Ryan Matterson, who was back in the second row position, and who popped the footy inside to Moses Mbye to score his first try of the 2019 season.

You couldn’t have asked Benji for a better return to the park, especially since Maloney was the main casualty of the try in the opposing five-eighth jersey. Yet this was just the beginning, as Brooks now went from try assister to try scorer, thanks to a strong run from Robbie Farah, who fended off James Tamou before shifting the footy across to his halfback just before Caleb Aekins closed in for a tackle. From there, all Brooks had to do was outrun Nathan Cleary for another four points, setting up Marsters for another effortless conversion right in front of the posts.

Brooks and Mbye now had their first tries of the season, while the Tigers’ spine was syncing better than it has all year. They now made it three tries in three sets, as Farah ran into the line and sent the Steeden across to Mbye, who shifted it on to Chris McQueen, who made his first linebreak from 2017 before sending a soaring cut-out pass to Marsters to score – a left sweep that started at one end of the field and ended at the other.

They kept on rolling on the restart, with Benji kicking a 30/20, and then passing to Matterson, who responded with a cut-out pass to put Corey Thompson across in the right corner. It was as if the Tigers had tapped into the momentum that the Roosters and Eels had enjoyed against them over the last couple of weeks, bringing their most magical performance in years to the second match in Magic Round, even if Marsters’ boot was particularly unreliable from the sideline.

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Penrith now finally got some football, but the Tigers were still next to score, thanks to a left edge play that saw Brooks collect the footy from Farah and then send a harbor bridge pass across to Robert Jennings, who was waiting to score on the left edge. While Marsters missed the extras once again, the Tigers still had their biggest ever first half lead, running rings around the Panthers, who conceded more points after Dallin Watene Zelezniak coughed up the high ball 23 minutes in.

Marsters almost crashed over on the first tackle, for a try that would have gone some way to making up for the six points he’d missed on conversions so far. Wisely, the home team chose to take the two after a slow peel from Sione Katoa right in front of the posts, since Marsters had to take these easy angles whenever he could get them. Yet Cleary’s boot was also below par when he went to convert a couple of sets later, keeping Penrith to four points after DWZ broke through the line and put Dean Whare across on the right edge.

A pass from Cleary soon after bounced straight off Moses Leota’s chest, while the Tigers responded by making it 17 from 17 sets, getting a penalty on the first tackle after Leota’s error following a strip from Katoa. This was a bit of an unlucky call for Penrith, but Cleary made up for it with a one on one strip on Thomas Mikaele a few tackles later, forcing the first incomplete set from the home team. Nevertheless, the Panthers soon showed why their own completion rate has been the worst in the competition this season, with Maloney fumbling the footy almost immediately.

The Tigers started to lose a bit of discipline as the last five minutes approached, starting with Mikaele losing the ball during a big tackle from Viliame Kikau. Although they were a long way ahead, it felt critical that they didn’t allow Penrith to score before the siren, since they needed to maintain their momentum, given their history of losing from in front, and the Panthers’ history of unexpected comebacks.

It was worrying, then, when a high tackle from Matterson on DWZ got the Panthers some additional field position. They got some time to regroup and gather their breath shortly after, as Mikaele was examined for a possible head injury, before choosing to tap and go following a second effort from Farah right on the line. Yet a handling error from Wayde Egan meant it all came to nothing, keeping Penrith on a single, solitary try as they headed into the sheds.

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Part of the challenge for the Tigers was returning to the second stanza as if it was a fresh game, rather than depending too much on their achievements in the first half. For a moment, it looked as if they’d managed to do that perfectly, following a lost ball from DWZ, and a penalty from Katoa for trying to shepherd Brooks away from it. The Tigers halfback then sent a wide ball across to Mbye, who crashed across the line, but the try was called back due to an obstruction on Maloney from Mahe Fonua.

If Mbye had scored the first try in both halves the Tigers would have been well on their way to making another big dent on the scoreboard. As it was, however, Fonua’s error felt like a potential turning-point for the Panthers, who made good headway on their next set, even if Brooks cleaned up Cleary’s grubber without much effort. Penrith got some more luck when a 40/20 was denied to Brooks, and Josh Mansour found space on the left edge, but Mbye made up for the bad call with one of the trysaving tackles of the night, dragging the Penrith winger ball and all over the side.

An error from Mbye got the Panthers the ball back again, only for it to shift hands following an obstruction on McQueen. Neither team had scored during the second stanza, and it had been a long time since the Tigers’ opening burst of points. While they were still a long way ahead, their edge was starting to slip away, and their completion rate was starting to plummet, making it critical that they score the next points, or at least prevent Penrith from scoring any more points.

Fifteen minutes out from the end, Mbye made an even bigger effort on Mansour, bumping the footy out of his hand just as he was about to put it down in the corner. Mbye had gone from fumbling the first Tigers try of the second stanza, to preventing the first Panthers try of the stanza, which is perhaps why it felt as if the game had finally moved back in the home team’s favour. Sure enough, the Tigers scored almost immediately, thanks to a kick from Brooks that Marsters gathered into his chest and slammed to ground.

They managed to keep the Panthers out for the rest of the game, with only Whare’s try in the first half marking their presence in the scoreline of 30-4. Not only was this a rousing response to the one-point loss last time these two teams met, but it was a critical moment for the Tigers following their massive losses to the Eels and Roosters over the last three weeks. They’ll be looking for some more big momentum, then, when they travel to AAMI Park to take on the Storm, while the Panthers will need to do some soul searching before they host the Warriors at Penrith on Friday night.

About Billy Stevenson (487 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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