Round 21: Willows Match Report and Player Review

R21: Wests Tigers vs Manly Sea Eagles
@ SFS

Round 21 of the NRL saw the Wests Tigers head to the SFS for a home game against the defending premiers, the Manly Sea Eagles. With the Manly in very good form looking to break their way into the top 4 and the resurgent Tigers looking to force their way into the top 8, this match shaped up as a cracker, and one that could define the Tigers season if they were to win. For the Tigers, they were given a much needed boost on the eve of tonights match with the return of Keith Galloway and Chris Heighington to the forward pack. So the scene was set…Which side would come out on top?

1st half:

The Tigers began strongly as they showed very good line speed in defence from the kick off, and were given a great attacking opportunity as Benji Marshall landed an excellent 40/20. The Sea Eagles soon gave away a penalty as Corey Payne attempted to dive over from dummyhalf, but the number 1 grub for Manly, Anthony Watmough was ruled offside. The Tigers took the shot at goal and Benji made no mistake in adding the extras and giving the Tigers an early 2-0 lead.

The next 10 minutes was pretty much all the Tigers as Manly continued to give away penalties and allowing the Tigers to get out of their own half quite easily. Early on Gibbs, Payten and Payne were all strong with the ball in hand. Around the 16th minute both sides started to make mistakes, first the Tigers, then Manly. Manly’s extra size in the forwards soon started to show as they bent the Tigers back around the ruck, as their big men rolled forward and the Tigers started bouncing off tackles. Things started to look ominous from where I was sitting and I thought it was just a matter of time before the Tigers cracked.

To the Tigers credit though, they held on and scrambled well. You could see the desperation in their defensive line as they repelled Manly when they were within striking range. Galea, Ellis, Lawrence and Gibbs were all strong in defence and came up with important tackles. In the 26th minute just when another Manly attacking raid looked threatening, a last play short kick found the waiting arms of Benji Marshall who proceeded to race 95 metres downfield and score out wide as the Gigantasaur known as George Rose gave chase. It was a great counter attacking move which was sure to frustrate Manly who were looking on top at that stage. Marshall landed the kick from out wide and the Tigers now lead by 8-0.

The Tigers continued to complete their sets while Manly again looked dangerous up the middle of the field everytime Watmough ran the ball. Another last tackle play by Manly went horribly wrong in the 30th minute as the kick found Tim Moltzen’s foot who then proceeded to kick the ball downfield and held off Watmough to regather. He then did well to stand and look for support which he found in the rangy Blake Ayshford who was caught soon after about 30 metres out from the Manly line. A couple of plays later and Manly had still not recovered as the ball found Robbie Farah who summed up the situation perfectly and placed a clever grubber kick behind the Manly defence. Tony Williams was nowhere to be found as the ball bounced up perfectly for Beau Ryan was raced around to improve his position and make the score 12-0 after 31 minutes. Marshall again made no mistake with the kick and the score was now 14-0.

Just as the Tigers were able to do last week against Canberra, they showed they have the best counter-attack in the game. If anyone had any doubts about this, the Tigers well and truly showed what they can do with their next try. Again it resulted from a Manly break as Glenn Stewart went through a hole and had support on his inside. As Shannon Gallant held back and the Tigers cover scrambled back, Stewart decided to kick. The ball was plucked straight out of the air by Gallant who went across field to beat the Manly support and then he set off downfield, working his way back toward the centre. He was brought down by Watmough but now the Tigers had the momentum and proceeded to bend Manly back. They soon found Manly short of numbers on the left as the ball went through the hands of Payten, Marshall and Lawrence who then put Tuiaki away down the sideline with only Robertson beat. It was David vs Goliath as TNT decided to throw a bit of a sidestep in and he went over with ease to score his 17th try of the season. Benji’s attempted conversion hit the upright but the Tigers now held a handy 18-0 lead, with all their tries coming from against the run of play.

The Tigers had one late chance right on halftime as an attempted field goal from Farah was wide of the mark and collected by David Williams. Williams must have thought he was playing Rugby Union as he proceeded to kick the ball from 5 metres out and it went straight to Marshall who stodd him up easily. Benji put in a grubber kick for Gallant but Robertson ran the ball dead in goal as the halftime siren sounded.

2nd half:

The second 40 minutes could well define the Tigers season as Manly were sure to throw everything at them. The Tigers continued to play percentage football though as they worked their way to the halfway line and turned Manly around with kicks either into touch or into the corners where the Eagles were forced to work the ball out from their own end. For the first few minutes of the second half, this tactic worked well for the Tigers, but when some over enthusiastic Tigers defence swept across field to round up Matai in the 53rd minute, he turned the ball inside to the biggest man on the field in Tony Williams who set off downfield as a huge hole opened up. The Tigers turned to give chase but Williams was unstoppable as he trampled Farah and Gallant on his way to the tryline. Orford landed the conversion and suddenly it was game on at 18-6.

Keith Galloway came up with a big play from the re-start as he forced the ball loose in a good tackle. The Tigers were unable to score off the scrum win but they did manage to get a repeat set of 6 and keep Manly pinned. Another Tigers raid in the 63rd minute looked set to go without result as Blake Ayshford went close but was dragged down short of the line. As the ball spread back to the left Robbie Farah saw his opportunity and calmly slotted a field goal to make the score 19-6. This now meant Manly had to score 3 times if they were to take the lead. The Tigers made it to the end of their next set but Manly’s response was swift. As the Tigers up and in defence rushed and left the line staggered, a Matt Orford pass found the grub Watmough who streaked through a hole. Watmough then showed how quick he is by then standing up Shannon Gallant who gave chase but was unable to bring Watmough down. He scored under the posts and Orford converted to make the score 19-12.

Now the game was really alive as Manly got their second wind and started making all sorts of inroads to the Tigers defence, while the Tigers started look fatigued and were scrambling for their season. The Tigers managed to hold Manly but not without several close calls. A last play kick by Manly was touched by Marshall which gave the Eagles 6 more tackles and when big George Rose went straight and hard 20 out from the line, it looked like he might go all the way. A desperate play by Blake Ayshford saw him strip the ball from Rose and save the Tigers skin on this occasion. Manly were not done however as again Anthony Watmough went straight through the Tigers, beating several players to score under the posts for his second try in the 75th minute. Orford converted and it was now 19-18 with 4 to go.

Manly again broke the Tigers defence from the re-start and headed off downfield. Matt Orford went for a long range field goal from 35 out but the ball narrowly missed the posts as the Tigers desperately held on. The Tigers played out their set of 6 but Manly counter-attacked once again, playing like their season depended on it while the Tigers came from all directions to try and shut the play down. In the 79th minute Manly were set straight in front of the posts 20 metres out from the Tigers line when Orford had his second shot at a field goal. It was charged down by Todd Payten in another huge play for the Tigers. Manly regathered however and launched one final raid on the Tigers line. It looked like a hole might appear at any second as the Tigers were out of their feet and as Manly went wide, I’m sure every Tigers fan had their heart in their mouth. Orford overplayed his hand this time, showing the ball one too many times before being brought to ground and as he was falling he threw a desperate pass in the direction of Tony Williams. The pass was wide of the mark though and went over the sideline. The Tigers players and fans cheered as one as the Tigers won the scrum and the fulltime siren sounded seconds later.

It wasn’t the Tigers prettiest win of the season, but it was their most important as they managed to hold out Manly who by and large had every right to win this match as they continually made good ground up the middle of the field. The Tigers were up for it though and played desperate football despite going into their shell in the second half.

Onto the players:

1. Gallant – Excellent first half as he was safe at the back and came up with a try saver on Whatmough. Counter attacked very well in the lead up to the Tuiaki try. Was put under a lot more defensive pressure in the second half as Watmough stood him up twice to score and almost win the match on his own for Manly. It was a mixed night for Gallant in the end. He was very good in some aspects, but defensively he struggled in the second half. Ran for 98 metres and made 5 tackles but missed 7 which let him down. Safe in defusing kicks.

2. Tuiaki – Relatively quiet tonight as the ball didn’t come his way as often as recent weeks. He still went well though, scoring his 17th try of the year and becoming more involved in the second half as Manly lifted. Decent effort as he clearly outshone SOO winger David Williams who was ordinary. Came up with 94 metres and 1 linebreak.

3. Ayshford – Excellent game tonight. Came up with some very good plays including a possible match winner in stripping the ball from Rose late in the game. His rangy frame and running style made him difficult to handle for the Manly defence too. Defended well and justified why Sheens selected him in FG this season IMO. 15 tackles with 4 missed and 89 metres in attack with 5 tackle breaks and 1 linebreak.

4. Lawrence – Solid tonight. Very good game in defence although was heavily marked in attack as usual. 17 tackles including some very important tackles on Glenn Stewart throughout the match. 82 metres in attack which was an improvement over recent weeks. Came up with a line break assist and try assist for TNT too.

5. Ryan – Went well tonight I thought. Scored a try from a clever Farah kick and was safe in defence and was effective out of dummyhalf. Got trampled once by Williams that I noticed but otherwise Ryan was safe again. 6 tackles, 1 error and 78 metres in attack.

6. Marshall – Very good tonight. Came up with an early 40/20 to put the Tigers on the front foot and scored the opening try. Short kicking game was off target on occasions but he came up with a couple of good short kicks in the second half and his long kicking game was good. Passing game was solid and he didn’t overplay his hand in throwing any ridiculous passes. Defended well also. 13 tackles, 1 offload, 6 tackle breaks, 1 try, 3 goals, kicked for 431 metres, 1 linebreak and 108 metres in attack.

7. Moltzen – Went well again tonight and looking more and more comfortable at 7. Working well with Benji too. Again looked dangerous on a couple of occasions against a solid Manly defence. Mixed night in defence. Came up with 11 good tackles but also missed 3, mostly on Tony Williams and Matai from what I saw. 3 tackle breaks, kicked for 165 metres, and ran for 26 metres. Also came up with an important charge down in the first half which lead to the Ryan try.

8. Gibbs – One of his best games this season. Leading metre muncher in the forwards with 120 metres. Had a very strong opening and dent the Manly line which was great to see. Gave away 1 penalty as Manly were on a roll up the middle, but like the Cowboys match, I can cop this one. Only 13 tackles tonight but very good yardage against a strong pack.

9. Farah – Went well and proved decisive in the Tigers win with his field goal and try assist for Ryan. Led the way in defence with 38 tackles and missed 4. Given the way Manly rolled forward in the second half, this is understandable. Kicked for 204 metres and also kicked one out on the full. Ran for 52 metres in a fine captains knock.

10. Payten – Followed up last week with another solid game and finding form at the right time. 16 tackles with 3 missed, came up with a great chargedown on Orford late in the game. Ran for 98 metres and went well IMO.

11. Ellis – Another strong game from the big Englishman. Defended strongly all night and ran hard in attack. A lot to like about his game as he continually plays the 80 minutes and has really strengthened the Tigers forward pack. 17 tackles with 4 missed, ran for 102 metres.

12. Galea – Best game of the season for him in attack and he was very good in defence yet again. Getting some good gametime now too which is a credit to the way he has slowly gone about building his form up. 33 tackles with 3 missed an 5 one-on-one, ran for 80 metres in attack.

13. Payne – Had a good opening to the game with some strong runs but was given a lengthy spell as Heighno came on to replace him. Defended strongly with 25 tackles and 2 missed. Ran for 45 metres.

14. Morris – Got 5 minutes at the end. No rating.

16. Skandalis – Another strong game from Skando as he rolled up his sleeves and went forward well. Came up with some good tackles too. Certainly played his part well tonight. 15 tackles with 5 missed, ran for 103 metres.

21. Galloway – Welcome return to FG and the big fella went well for his first game in 12 weeks. Ran hard and came up with some good tackles too. Definitely helped the Tigers go forward and will be better for the run next week. Made 8 tackles and ran for 65 metres.

22. Heighington – Also a welcome return to FG. Looked short of a run for obvious reasons but also pushed himself as always. Came up with a couple of desperate tackles around the ruck and had several decent runs. I’d bring both him and Galloway off the bench again next week for impact as I thought they made a difference tonight. 12 tackles with 3 missed and ran for 71 metres.

Overall Analysis:

Attack:

A bit quiet overall really. The Tigers were at their most dangerous when they counter attacked tonight, and thankfully they were deadly in this regard. Otherwise linebreaks were non-existent as Manly did defend well in regular play. No Tiger really stood out in attack tonight but Ayshford was a handful on several occasions.

Defence:

It won them the game in the end as Manly came home with a wet sail. The Tigers scrambled brilliantly in the first half and held Manly scoreless, the first time a side has done that this season. The second half the Tigers struggled as Manly’s forward pack through hatmough and Rose made big dents in the Tigers line. The Tigers continued to scramble but they did miss a lot of tackles tonight, but they scrambled ala 2005. The Tigers will need to work on slowing down the ruck and tightening up their defence.

Kicking game:

Superior to Manly’s and in general it was very good. The Tigers forced a line drop out but also conceded 3. Their long kicking game turned Manly around well and apart from one kick on the full from Robbie, it was one of the Tigers better kicking performances I thought.

  • Final Stats: (Manly in brackets)
  • Errors: 11 (15)
    Completions: 33/40 (28/41)
    Penalties: 4 (5)
    Scrums: 9(6)
    Tackles: 246 (312)
    1 on 1 tackles: 27 (22)
    Missed tackles: 46 (32)
    Line breaks: 3 (6)
    Offloads: 5 (22)
    Run metres: 1316 (1178)
    Try assists: 2 (1)
    40/20: 1 (0)
    Line droputs: 1 (3)

So there you have it, the Tigers came away with the narrowest of wins in a very hard fought game. The Tigers still didn’t look at their best IMO. They played within themselves in attack while I don’t know if Manly had much more improvement in them. Watmough had a whinge after the game on Fox Sports saying his team didn’t get the bounce of the ball etc. but the Tigers made their own luck tonight and scrambled well enough to just hold Manly out. Completions were the key and the Tigers won this stat which helped prove decisive.

Next Sunday the Tigers return to the SFS to take on the Roosters in another must win game. The Tigers can ill afford to let up now as they are still not in the 8 and have plenty of work left in front of them. Tonight was a vital win and will no doubt give the team a massive boost in confidence and self-belief. The Tigers will need to call upon this in the coming weeks as they are still not at their best IMO.

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