Round 23: Willow’s Match Report and Player Review

R23:  Cronulla Sharks vs Wests Tigers
@ Toyota Park

Round 23 of the NRL Telstra Premiership saw the Wests Tigers travel to Shark Park to take on the toothless and luckless Sharks in a bid to win their 6th successive game. The Sharks were coming off yet another belting, a Monday night loss to the Broncos and their side had been further decimated by injury, with at least half the Sharks squad made up of players promoted from the Toyota Cup or State Cup. The Tigers meanwhile were coming off a hard fought win against the Roosters where they were very flat. They would no doubt be looking for a more energetic performance today.

Tuiaki Scores against the Sharks.

Tuiaki Scores against hapless Sharks.

1st half:

The Sharks received the ball and started well, making it over the halfway line on their first set as they looked enthusiastic and hit the Tigers on the edges. They also got off their line very quickly in defence and had the Tigers going nowhere for the first 5 minutes. The fact that the Tigers gave away an early penalty didn’t help their cause in getting out of their own half. The Tigers defence held though as Cronulla made some early handling errors while attacking the Tigers line.

It wasn’t too long before the Tigers took control of the game though, in the 11th minute Robbie Farah scooted from dummy-half after getting a quick play the ball and he put Tim Moltzen away who drew the fullback before offloading to Marshall who raced away to score a well structured try. Benji converted from in front and it was 6-0 to the Tigers after 12 minutes. 5 minutes later the Tigers were in again, this time through Blake Ayshford after debutante Robert Lui put in a short grubber kick out wide which was spilled by the Sharks winger. Ayshford scooped the ball up and carried 2 defenders across the line. Benji’s conversion was waved away as the Tigers now lead 10-0 after 17 minutes.

At this stage of the match the Tigers forward pack had taken control of the ruck and they were making good yardage, while the backline was looking nice and structured and playing with depth. In the 25th minute the Tigers went further ahead through Beau Ryan who crossed out wide after being put on the end of a brilliant cut-out pass from Farah. It was all about the lead-up to this try though, as first Gareth Ellis broke through and managed to offload to John Skandalis who found himself in space before charging downfield only to be caught 10 metres short of the line. Marshall converted and it was now 16-0 to the Tigers.

It started to turn ugly for the Sharks as they had a try disallowed a few minutes later as Taulapapa put his foot on the sideline as he received a pass which put him on the outside of Beau Ryan. No sooner had the try been disallowed and back in the hands of the Tigers when Robbie Farah ran from dummy-half and brushed between a couple of lazy defenders to find himself in open space and heading downfield. Farah in turn found Taniela Tuiaki who came flying through in support and proceeded to run 60 metres to score next to the posts. Marshall made no mistake with the conversion and it was 22-0.

Just before half-time the Tigers went further in front as Farah shifted the ball to the Tigers rightside to find Blake Ayshford with room to move. Ayshford in turn offloaded to Ryan, although the pass was not great, thankfully Ryan on this occasion remembered how to transform into Dr Zoidberg and crabbed his way across the field, stepping defenders before linking up with Benji Marshall who had space on the left side of the field and he threw a nice ball to Tuiaki who had little work to do to score his second try of the afternoon on the stroke of halftime. Benji converted the try and the Tigers went to the sheds with a commanding 28-0 lead.

The Tigers played a simple game in the first half and were simply too skilful and too quick for the Sharks to handle. Possession favoured the Tigers and they completed 20/23 sets which really set up proceedings. The one downside was the loss of veteran prop John Skandalis who appeared to suffer a nasty cork around the knee.

2nd half:

The Tigers began the second half as they ended the first – full of running. The Sharks first set resulted in Anthony Tupou offloading a ball which found Keith Galloway of all Tigers players. Sauce promptly offloaded to Tigers fullback Tim Moltzen who saw a gap in the line and he put on a jinking sidestep and found clear space in front of him. 80 metres later the Tigers lead by 34-0 as Benji landed the simple conversion from in front.

The Sharks while totally outclassed refused to give up though and they finally managed to get on the board in the 55th minute through Tigers-bound centre Mitch Brown as he put in a grubber kick for himself and managed to regather before Tim Moltzen could get across to clean the ball up. Covell missed the conversion and it was 34-4. The Tigers response was almost immediate though as they crossed in the 58th minute through Beau Ryan as the Tigers ran the ball on the last tackle through Robbie Farah. Farah put in an awkward looking grubber kick which bounced horribly for the Sharks but perfectly for the chasing Ryan who crashed over in the corner. Marshall missed the sideline conversion and it was now 38-4 with 22 minutes remaining.

The Tigers scored arguably their most impressive try of the day in the 62 minute as Tim Moltzen fielded a Cronulla kick before passing to Tuiaki and then swiftly running around behind him to create an extra man. TNT offloaded to Moltzen who quickly passed to Marshall who had also dropped back. Marshall then hit the accelerator before standing up Stapleton and streaking away to score his second try of the day under the posts. Marshall made no mistake with the conversion and it was now 44-4 to the Tigers. That wasn’t the last of the Tigers for the day though as they went in 3 minutes later through Blake Ayshford who also picked up a double. It all started with Marshall though as he put Tim Moltzen through a gap who in turn found Robert Lui in support. Lui hit the deck but the tackle was not complete, so he got to his feet and went again before being almost wrapped up by 2 Sharks cover defenders, Lui managed to pop a one handed offload to another Tigers player before Ayshford crashed over out wide. Benji converted and it was now 50-4 to the Tigers.

The Sharks managed to cross in the 69th minute through Matthew Wright as the Sharks caught out the Tigers with an inside ball. Wright found space as Gareth Ellis failed to shift across in time and he had too much pace for Moltzen who seemed to stick in the turf for some reason and didn’t really get close to him. Covell converted and it was 50-10. The Tigers crossed for one last try in the 78th minute through Tuiaki as they scored from yet another scrum based move. Heighington broke from the scrum down the blindside before passing to Lawrence who cleverly drew in Covell before putting Tuiaki away down the sideline for his hat-trick. Marshall converted and the ful-ltime score ended up 56-10.

Onto the players:

1. Moltzen – Good game from Moltzen. Got crunched early in the first half while standing his ground in trying to defuse a Sharks bomb and while he looked to be beaten all ends up by Wright in the second half, he did come up with a try saver on a Sharks forward and he showed a clean pair of heels in racing 80 metres to score. He was also very good in putting Marshall away for his second try and he nearly put the Tigers in for another try in the second half in one jinking run. Made 187 metres in attack, 1 error, 4 linebreaks, 1 linebreak assist, 4 tackle breaks, 2 try assists and 1 try.

2. Tuiaki – Now the leading tryscorer in the competition as he bagged a hat-trick today in a powerful performance. Proved a handful all afternoon, as to be expected and didn’t let his team mates down. 3 tries, 209 metres in attack, 2 errors, 2 linebreaks, 4 tackle breaks.

3. Ayshford – Decent game today as he bagged a double although a couple of his passes did not go where he intended in the first half. It was academic though as Blake continues to impress and looks comfortable in the centres. Had his hands full marking Tupou though. 2 tries and 30 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 13 tackles, 2 missed tackles.

4. Lawrence – Glad to have him back from injury today, although unfortunately he was never put into space today which was a shame. Looked to be moving fairly freely and hopefully he pulled up well. We’ll need him against the Eels for sure. 86 metres in attack, 1 linebreak assist, 7 tackles, 2 missed tackles and 1 try assist.

5. Ryan – Went alright today. Got caught out in defence in the first half but the try was disallowed to the Sharks. Scored a double and nearly had a hat-trick himself. Otherwise he was mistake free and solid. 2 tries, 78 metres in attack, 1 linebreak, 3 tackle breaks, 5 tackles.

6. Marshall – His one main blemish was pass which went over the sideline in the second half. Otherwise Benji was all class in attack and he also defended well. 24 points which consisted of 2 tries and 8 goals, 165 metres in attack, 2 errors, 188 kick metres, 12 tackles, 2 linebreaks, 3 tackle breaks, 2 try assists.

7. Lui – Good debut IMO. Came up with some good tackles and while he dropped off a couple, he had Gallen running at him a bit. Conceded a penalty and came up with 1 error when Payne threw him a ball he probably shouldn’t have. He nearly broke through the Sharks line a couple of times though and certainly didn’t look out of place. 58 metres in attack, 12 tackles, 1 try assist and a nice offload which led to Ayshford’s second try.

8. Gibbs – Gave away an early penalty which had me shaking my head but Bryce picked his game up and played big minutes today. Defended well and kept up his good work in attack. 115 metres in attack, 24 tackles, 1 penalty conceded, 1 offload.

9. Farah – Looked very dangerous until being placed in cotton wool at the 60th minute. Made 79 metres in attack, kicked for 179 metres, 1 linebreak, 2 offloads, 23 tackles, 3 try assists.

10. Galloway – Strong today, ran hard and came up with some good tackles. Led the way well up front IMO. 135 metres in attack, 23 tackles.

11. Ellis – Very good game from the big Englishman today, hit hard in defence, flattening several Sharks players and was also a handful in attack. Received a caution for sticking his foot out again but hopefully he’s not cited for it, we need him badly for the Eels match. 125 metres in attack, 26 tackles, 3 missed tackles and 1 linebreak assist.

12. Payten – Not a bad game from Todd again today. Defended well and ran the ball up ok again. 84 metres in attack, 18 tackles.

13. Heighington – Got a decent break today, and needed it because he looks down on match fitness still, although he’s still working hard out on the field. Not a bad game and still building his game towards the end of the season and hopefully finals. 69 metres in attack, 19 tackles and 1 offload.

14. Morris – Played the last 20 minutes and went ok. Did his job and tackled well as usual. 39 metres in attack, 7 tackles.

15. Galea – His attack was stunted today coming off the bench but he defended well with 16 tackles. I think he’d be better served starting with Payten coming off the bench though to be honest.

16. Payne – Went down with a knee injury in the second half. Don’t know how serious it is yet. Ran ok for 58 metres off 7 runs and 12 tackles.

17. Skandalis – He was going well before coming off with a nasty cork in the first half. Picked up 83 metres in attack and 6 tackles. Hopefully he isn’t out for more than a match.

Overall Analysis:

Attack:

Needless to say it was very good. Cronulla were undermanned but the Tigers didn’t get excited today and try too many miracle plays. They went forward up the middle and played with good depth and space out wide. Farah, Marshall and Lui all played with good vision, Farah and Marshall the chief playmakers with Lui injecting himself on occasion and looking comfortable out there. Moltzen, Tuiaki and Ellis were also strong in attack.

Defence:

Good again. The Tigers gave up a couple of linebreaks but once again scrambled well. They will need to watch the inside passes though and also the offloads, Cronulla bent them back a few times with offloads and the Eels are very good at this so the Tigers will once again need to focus on their defence if they are to beat the Eels next Friday.

Kicking game:

Average today. Too many kicks went dead in the first half as Sharks Park was very dry and the ball just kept bouncing. The kicking game improved in the second half but the Tigers did not threaten the Sharks with their kicking game today. It will need to be at it’s best in 5 days time though.

Final stats:

  • Try assists – 9
    Offloads – 5
    Linebreaks – 11
    Line break assists – 7
    Tackles – 227
    Kicks – 17 (485 metres)
    Possession – 53%
    Errors – 10
    Penalties conceded – 7

Today was a good win for the Tigers, but it came at a cost with Skandalis and Payne both injured, Ellis cautioned and Payten put on report, although I think the latter two players should be right to face the Eels. The Tigers were clinical in attack and pretty good in defence although they will need to step it up against the Eels on Friday. The kicking game was off today although the way the game was played, it didn’t prove to be a concern.

Next Friday at the SFS will be a blockbuster though with both the Tigers and Eels entering the match in excellent form.

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