ROUND 4: Gold Coast Titans v. Wests Tigers (Suncorp Stadium, 8/6/20)

The Titans broke their losing streak when they hosted the Tigers at Suncorp on Sunday night, starting with a strong set after a poor completion record in 2020. Brian Kelly fumbled Joey Leilua’s kick at the end of the Tigers’ second touch of the football, then tumbled his whole body over the Steeden, which somehow retained its backwards motion, getting the Titans the scrum feed, and then the first restart moments later. Jamal Fogarty kicked on the last, Anthony Don knocked it forward, and Luciano Leilua and Josh Aloiai took some big hit-ups, before Harry Grant capitalised on the Tigers’ first restart by sending Luke Brooks through the line in the middle of the park. Brooksy didn’t score then and there, but his rapid play-the-ball opened up space for Benji Marshall to ferry the footy across the field, and send a wraparound pass back to Adam Doueihi, who slammed over the line and moved the ball from one hand to the other, with Philip Sami beneath him, before finally making contact with the turf.

Benji continued with the goalkicking duties, and the Tigers got another restart on the restart, then the first dropout of the game, when Doueihi and Sami connected again, but this time on either end of a moving ball, as the Tigers fullback forced the acting Gold Coast fullback to pop his kick into touch for a repeat set. Taylor went long with the kick, which nearly rolled all the way back to the Tigers’ thirty, but David Nofoaluma  brought it back about twenty metres, only to miss a poorly timed pass from Luke Garner on the very next tackle, bringing an early right raid to an abrupt conclusion. Nofa turned his frustration into points a minute later, running into the Titans line to intercept a pass from Taylor, and heading back down the park without a pause, accelerating away from the Gold Coast defence to put down the softest try of the match beneath the posts, setting up Benji for the easiest conversion kick of the game.

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Given the tenor of Round 4, and the landslide games by the Roosters and Knights in particular, you had to wonder whether this was going to be the start of another avalanche of points. Gold Coast had to make an emphatic statement, and they started by cleaning up an offload from Joey Leuliua to Grant on the restart, ensuring the young hooker could do nothing with the second-phase play. Brooks was forced to kick from the halfway line, under considerable pressure from Jai Arrow, and Don caught the ball cleanly despite a strong kick chase from the Tigers – the first sign that the Titans were starting to regain some control of the match. A moment later, Mikaele gave away the first penalty, for a crusher tackle on Sami, and Gold Coast had their best attacking opportunity in some time, until Bryce Cartwright made a forward pass right on the Tigers’ line. Still, they were lucky to get away with a scrum feed, since Moses Mbye had intercepted the ball, and looked set to follow Nofoaluma’s mad dash down the field.

As it turned out, and as strange as it might have seemed at this early point, this missed intercept try was probably the critical turning-point against the Tigers. With a third straight try they would have had all the momentum, but instead the Titans were galvanised by this letoff. Taylor shot through a 40/20 at the end of their next set, Kevin Proctor wrestled them a six again call on the first tackle, and then scored on the fourth, collecting a short ball from Erin Clark to slam through Doueihi, Benji and Grant on the left side of the park. Sami followed with his best run of the night, breaking through the line and weaving around a swathe of Tigers defenders, until Doueihi finally got to him. Robert Jennings now only just survived the high ball from Fogarty, defying a tackle from Don and Arrow to stay in the field of play, only for Mbye to be dragged back in goal on the second tackle by a superb pack effort spearheaded by Young Tonumaipea.

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Benji went short with the kickoff, but Don easily outleaped the defenders, ushering in a strong series of hit-ups before Taylor focused the set with a superb offload to Clark, who kicked to the right edge. Tonumaipea missed the catch, but still put enough pressure on the Tigers for a second successive conversion. This time Benji went long, but Moeaki Fotuaika brought it back as confidently as Nofoaluma had fifteen minutes before, as Mbye slammed in to shut down Sami at the end of a promising right sweep. Unphased, the Titans headed left, where Proctor held up another three defenders, this time five metres out, before Taylor sent through the deadliest bomb of the evening – a floating monster that found Don on the edge, where the cult winger outleaped the defence for the second time during this sequence, outdoing Jennings in the air and Brooks on the ground to slam down the next four points for Gold Coast, levelling the scoreline after Taylor slotted another conversion through the posts.

Both teams struggled for the next try in the leadup to half time, and both failed, as the Titans made an unsuccessful Captain’s Challenge following a Tyrone Peachey error, and Taylor shanked a field goal away from the uprights in the final minute. The Tigers were just as frustrated following their surge at the start of the game, but they came back rapidly after the break, with both the best ad-lib try and the best team try of the season. Brooks’ first kick had a crazy bounce to it, causing Alex Seyfarth, who was fresh on the field, to careen away from it, unsettling and disorienting the Gold Coast defence in the process. Jennings scooped it up and got it away to Luciano Leilua, before Jennings made a totally blind backward pass to Brooks, who caught-and-passed to Grant before he was brought to ground. Grant now made the first of two crossfield runs that steadied this sequence, sending the footy through Seyfarth to Benji for the second. From there, Benji used Joey Leilua as a pivot to get the Steeden to Nofoaluma on the right edge, where the no. 2 had to find some kind of magic to score.

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Nofa opted for a kick at high speed, getting the ball back inside just before Dale Copley bundled him into touch. Amazingly, Joey Leilua caught it on the full, placing down his first four points as a Tigers, to cap off a sublime sequence that seemed destined to guarantee the win to the home side, even thought it only got them a four point lead when Benji’s kick ricocheted away from the left upright. They got a fresh set of six at the start of the restart when Proctor was pinged for an illegal strip on Oliver Clark, before Billy Walters almost broke through the line on the third, and Brooks’ next kick was played at by Gold Coast, getting his men a fresh burst of field position. They really needed to score here to recover their two-try lead from the first half, so it was a big save for the Titans when Sami collected Brooks’ next kick and only just made his way back into the field of play. His team got another bout of field position after a Benji error, but lost it just as abruptly following a marginally forward pass from Erin Clark.

Brooks now dummied and made a shot at the line, before Oliver Clark took a big hit-up in front of the posts, and Benji sent a cut-out ball to Nofoaluma on the last, but this time Nofa’s kick from the right edge wasn’t as successful, skittering over the dead ball line to gift Gold Coast a seven tackle set. They got an additional scrum feed when a Cartwright pass came off Jennings, but didn’t have long to enjoy the football, as Garner made a terrific low tacle on Sami, dislodging the footy and getting the Tigers the platform they needed to get down their next try. It came off their best sequence of second-phase play in the game – an ofload from Seyfarth to Benji, and then from Leilua to Brooks, both on the second last play, and then a clutch offload from Brooks on the last to Doueihi, who booted the ball to the right edge, where Nofoaluma made up for his overlong kick with a perfect leap. Collecting the footy on the full, AFL-style, he soared above Copley to slam down the next four points, before Benji added the extras.

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Yet these would be the last points that the visitors would score, with the exception of a late field goal, as the Titans commenced a comeback that, in its own way, was as impressive as the Sea Eagles’ performance against Parra two days before, except that here the right team got the competition points. A few minutes later, Keegan Hipgrave got them going with his first NRL try, collecting the footy from Peachey and making a big right step to slam through Aloiai and Doueihi right beneath the posts. Gold Coast got their next opportunity when Taylor kicked his best bomb of the game from the forty – a critical moment in his own personal comeback during this second stanza. The ball towered in the air for several seconds before it bounced in front of Jennings, who pulled out of the play, and Tonumapiea, who didn’t get a hand to it. Doueihi and Don then converged on the footy in goal for the second round of the contest, and after extensive Bunker scrutiny it was deemed that the Gold Coast winger had made contact a millisecond before the Wests Tigers fullback – a massive letoff for the visitors.

Yet while Gold Coast hadn’t scored here, they’d continued to build momentum, while the Tigers were starting to struggle, wasting their Captain’s Challenge to contest a seven tackle set after Don caught a Brooks bomb while his foot was planted on the goal line. The Titans now got their most plosive burst of field position all night, moving through a linebreak from Tonumaipea, two successive restarts, and then a third six again call on the final tackle. Their momentum was momentarily halted after Jaimin Jolliffe lost the footy right in front of the posts, off a bone-shattering low tackle from Aloiai, but they came good a few minutes later, when Taylor conclusively came back from his kicking game in the first stanza with a brilliantly weighted grubber to the left corner. Reading the play immediately, Benji stuck out a boot to try and play at the football, but the aim was true, sitting up perfectly for Brian Kelly to plant it down, levelling the score after Taylor missed the conversion a couple of seconds later.

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The 22-22 scoreline remained with four minutes on the clock, after the Titans got a bit of breathing-space when play was halted for the trainer to address a leg cramp for Tonumaipea, so the Tigers seemed to have won the match when Benji booted through a decisive field goal from the left side of the park. Even a one-point win over Gold Coast would have been a pretty poor result for the Tigers, but things got worse when the home team recovered the footy, and then scored at the end of what should have been the Tigers’ restart, as Sami slammed forward to ground a Brian Kelly kick right in front of the dead ball line. This was a cathartic moment for Sami, who had taken the brunt of the Tigers’ defence in the first half, and a brilliant moment for the Titans, who had broken their long losing streak, putting them in good form to take on the Rabbitohs next weekend. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a confounding and frustrating loss for the Tigers, especially given their brilliant try at the start of the second half, so they’ll be doing some soul-searching before they take on Canberra on Saturday night.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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