Round 26: Willow’s Match Report and Player Review

R26:  Wests Tigers vs Canterbury Bulldogs
@SFS

Round 26 of the NRL premiership saw the Tigers travel to the SFS for the final time this season to take on competition leaders the Bulldogs, who were aiming to win the minor premiership after finishing with the wooden spoon last season. For the Tigers, tonight was all about pride and playing for each other, as yet again the Tigers just fell short of making the top 8 for the 4th season in a row. With the 2 competition points being merely academic, and the Bulldogs calling upon the Tigers to take it to them, this match was sure to prove interesting…

Ayshford Scores

Ayshford Scores

1st half:

The Tigers got away to a flyer tonight, earning a penalty off the 2nd tackle and heading deep into the Bulldogs half. The Tigers gave the ball plenty of air early, coming up with a lot of quick and clever short passing and the early pressure was rewarded in the 4th minute as a good cut-out pass from John Morris found makeshift winger Blake Ayshford unmarked who crossed in the corner. Marshall’s sideline conversion went astray in a similar sign to last week against the GC, but it was a handy 4-0 lead to the Tigers.

Things didn’t get any better for the Bulldogs as Hasem El-Masri lost the ball on the first opportunity they had. The Tigers made them pay immediately from the scrum win as Benji Marshall caught the Bulldogs short and put Chris Lawrence away who had too much pace for the cover defence. Marshall made no mistake with the sideline conversion this time and now the Tigers had jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

It wasn’t until the 9th minute when the Tigers had to actually defend, and they showed good line speed early on. The Tigers continued to control the ball, and the game in the first 20 minutes as they played direct football up the middle of the field and made the Bulldogs work the ball out from their own danger end. The Bulldogs did manage to force a line dropout from the Tigers in the 21st minute but the Tigers defence held solid as they numbered up well.

The Tigers again placed more pressure on the Bulldogs line in the 25th minute but the ball was knocked forward by Heighington. A great break by Gareth Ellis in the 29th minute was brought undone when Farah put down his offload. The Tigers managed to force a line drop out of their own in the 30th minute but they were unable to break the Bulldogs defence. The Tigers continued to camp themselves on the Bulldogs line though and they eventually crossed in the 36th minute through fullback Tim Moltzen after he capitalised on a good offload from Galloway who found Farah who in-turn put Moltzen into a good gap. Marshall made no mistake with the conversion and the Tigers went to halftime with a handy 16-0 lead.

The Tigers did lose Rhys Hanbury to a suspected calf injury and Todd Payten also came off with a head cut.

2nd half:

The began the second half like they did the first – With plenty of ball, and partly due to Keith Galloway ending up on his head in being tackled by Josh Morris and Luke Patten. The Tigers crossed in the 43rd through Danny Galea who scored his first try after 3 season with the Tigers. Galea crossed untouched after Marshall did very well to pick up a low pass. Marshall converted the try and the Tigers now lead 22-0.

The Tigers continued to hold the Bulldogs at bay and they went further in front in the 52 minute through Benji Marshall who scored a very good individual try as he stepped between Idris and Holdsworth and had too much pace for Patten and El-Masri. Marshal converted his try and the Tigers now lead 28-0. The Bulldogs soon got themselveson the scoreboard through Luke Patten as Ben Roberts broke through the Tigers line. El-Masri converted to leave the Bulldogs trailing 28-6 after 55 minutes.

The Bulldogs almost went back to back after Jamal Idris left Chris Lawrence and several other Tigers players in his wake in the 58th minute but Lawrence eventually scrambled and brought him down from behind. The Tigers were able to get a penalty and work it out of their own half. David Gower made his first grade debut in the 62 minute for the Tigers and was imediately involved in defence and attack. The Tigers extended their lead in the 64 minute through Dene Halatau as the Tigers switched the angle of play on the last tackle through Benji Marshall. Marshall found Lawrence on the short side who then put Halatau in the corner. Marshall had his kicking boots on tonight as he landed the conversion from out wide to make the scoreline 34-6.

The Bulldogs then capitalised on a Tigers mistake in the 69th minute as Josh Morris ran 80 metres to score after swooping on a loose ball from Tim Moltzen. Marshall put in a great chase to match Morris for speed, but Morris then turned him inside out with some good footwork before holding off Moltzen whose chase was too late. El-Masri converted to make the scoreline 34-12. The Bulldogs almost went in again from the re-start as they had the Tigers at sixes and sevens however Dean Collis came up with a good try saver on a runaway Stagg (no pun intended). The Bulldogs were penalised for a double movement moments later as the Tigers breathed a sigh of relief.

Tim Moltzen then burst through a gap in the 72nd minute but his pass found a Bulldogs player rather than Marshall who was lurking in support. There would be no further change to the scoreline though as the Tigers finished 2009 with a thumping win over the Bulldogs who now enter the finals with plenty of doubt over their ability to win the premiership.

Seven Tigers players took to the field with pain killing injections tonight too in a good display of courage.

Onto the players:

1. Moltzen – Decent game from Tim tonight. As usual he didn’t run the ball much from the back, but he did chime into the backline regularly in attack and also positioned himself around the ruck. Came up with a couple of good tackles in the second half to shut down breaks made by the Dogs. Scored a nice try to end a very good season for him. 79 metres in attack, 1 try, 2 linebreaks and 2 errors.

2. Ayshford – He’s definitely not a winger but geez he played well there tonight. Made good metres out of dummyhalf all night and also got across the tryline again and made a good linebreak in the second half. One of the shining lights for the Tigers this season as he had a very good debut season and will be sure to improve next season with a proper off-season under his belt and some muscle added to his frame. 165 metres in attack, 1 try, 2 linebreaks.

3. Collis – Not a bad game for Dene in his last in Tigers colours. Had a decent battle with Josh Morris all night and while he couldn’t get around him in attack, the same went for Morris with Collis defending. Came up with a good try-saver on Stagg in the second half. Good luck at the Sharks Dene. 73 metres in attack and 8 tackles.

4. Lawrence – Amazing how good he looks when he gets plenty of ball. Scored a nice try off a set scrum move and generally played well all night, with one bad miss on Idris his only real blemish from what I saw. Time for Lawrence to get over his niggling injuries and look towards rep selection in 2010. 126 metres in attack, 1 try, 11 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 linebreaks and 1 try assist.

5. Hanbury – He was playing well in the first half until he was forced from the field with what is suspected to be a calf injury. Hanbury had made 61 metres in attack prior to coming off.

6. Marshall – Best on the field for the Tigers tonight and channel 9 MOM. Scored a great solo try and had a hand in several others. Had his kicking boots on too which helped. 74 metres in attack, 1 try, kicked for 230 metres, 2 errors, 3 missed tackles, 1 linebreak, 2 try assists.

7. Morris – Solid game for Morris in his last in Tigers colours. Got caught with the ball a couple of times when it looked like he could have passed, but overall Morris went alright tonight, doing plenty of work in defence and also came up with a good cut-out pass to send Ayshford in for the first try. Good luck at the Sharks John. 93 metres in attack, kicked for 99 metres, 19 tackles, 3 missed tackles, 1 try assist.

8. Payten – Solid game from Payten although he spent a bit of time on the sidelines after suffering a head cut in the first half. 71 metres in attack and 13 tackles.

9. Farah – A bit mixed again tonight. Put one kick out on the full again and dropped what was a very catchable pass after Ellis broke into the clear in the first half. Otherwise he was busy all night and put Moltzen in for a try in the first half. Hopefully he will earn selection for Australia in the 4 nations tournament. 27 metres in attack, 22 tackles, kicked for 164 metres, 2 errors.

10. Galloway – Very strong game up front tonight and was a handful all night. It was a season of what might have been for KG as he was very close to being selected for NSW in SOO before being struck down with a serious knee injury. Given the way he finished the season, hopefully he’ll gain rep honours for NSW next year. 153 metres in attack, 14 tackles.

11. Ellis – Like Galloway, he was very strong tonight and has had a very strong 2009 for the Tigers, adding some real starch to the team in defence and also proving a handful in attack. 165 metres in attack, 21 tackles and 1 linebreak.

12. Galea – Another Tiger who finished the season with a good game. Galea scored his first try in Tigers colours and ran hard and defended well all night. Currently unsigned for next season after being released by the Tigers, I wish Danny all the best wherever he ends up. 99 metres in attack, 1 try, 18 tackles.

13. Heighington
– Decent game from Heighno tonight as he worked hard as usual. Got stopped in his tracks a couple of times but also had a couple of runs where he proved hard to bring down. This season Chris was certainly down on form compared to last season and several injuries throughout the year didn’t help. Hopefully we’ll see a resurgence from Heighno next year. 102 metres in attack, 26 tackles.

14. Halatau – Not a bad game for Dene to finish his career at the Tigers. He ended up playing in the centres/wing after Hanbury was injured. Scored a try and came up with a couple of decent tackles. Good luck at the Bulldogs next season Dene. 77 metres in attack, 1 try, 10 tackles and 1 error.

15. Payne – Decent effort from Corey tonight as he is also unlikely to be at the Tigers next season after not being re-signed. Got through a bit of work in attack and defended alright. 89 metres in attack and 11 tackles.

16. Schirnack – He’s not a front rower IMO as he’s a bit too small and gets dominated a bit too easy like Heighno at times. More suited to the second row as a result as he’s more of a worker than a genuine go-forward option. He might be a bit different if he was 4-5kg heavier, although it’s hard to know how that will affect his fitness. I’ll be interested to see how he is used next season all the same as he gets in and has a go. 61 metres in attack, 14 tackles.

17. Gower – Played the last 18 minutes and didn’t look out of his depth. Looks to be around 6″3 in height but not as heavy as Ellis. With another couple of kilos on his frame, he could be handy off the bench next year if given a go. Looks pretty fit and capable.

Overall Analysis:

Attack:

Pretty good tonight as the Tigers ran in 6 tries to 2 with Benji Marshall the main piece in the jigsaw puzzle. The Tigers cause was helped by winning the possession easily and also controlling the ball fairly well all night. The backline saw plenty of ball, particularly Lawrence and Ayshford who looked dangerous all night. Marshall was also very dangerous and among the forwards it was Galloway and Ellis who did the damage up the middle with good support from Farah, Payten and Galea.

Defence:

The Tigers held the Bulldogs easily tonight and bar a couple of breaks up the middle of the ruck, the Tigers were rarely threatened. The scramble defence was good and it’s just a pity the Tigers did not defend with the same vigour last week against the Titans.

Kicking game – Pretty good for the most part with only a couple of kicks being rather ordinary, one from Farah out on the full and another from Moltzen which went straight up and down. Marshall kicked well for the most part but from a season’s point of view, the Tigers kicking game needs plenty of work if they are to become a top 4 side next season.

  • Final stats (Bulldogs in brackets):
  • Tackles: 197 (304)
  • All run metres: 1544 (1133)
  • Penalties: 7 (3)
  • Errors: 12 (18)
  • Offloads: 12 (11)
  • Linebreaks: 10 (5)
  • Possession: 62% (38%)

After watching tonights game I can only wonder at how the Tigers managed to miss the finals for the 4th year in a row. A slow start to the season in where the Tigers were competitive in every game but were let down by poor completions and options in attack, the Tigers showed what they were capable of with impressive wins over the Roosters, Storm and Knights. A very cruel run of close losses mid-season to Souths, the Bulldogs, Broncos and Storm certainly came back to haunt them as they made a late season charge where they won 6 games in a row before falling narrowly to a red-hot Eels side, before the Tigers gave up an early 12-0 lead against the Titans to narrowly miss the finals.

Among the negatives for the Tigers were serious injuries to key players such as Chris Lawrence, Chris Heighington, Keith Galloway and Taniela Tuiaki. Poor team selections also cost the side, with conjecture over a couple of positions – namely fullback, half and five-eighth being critical talking points all season. Hopefully we’ll see a more balanced Tigers side in 2010.

There were also plenty of positives though. Taniela Tuiaki proved to be an unstoppable force of nature all season, leading the try-scoring and linebreaks all season until breaking his leg against the Eels a fortnight ago. Tim Moltzen had a very good 2009 and while he spent most of the season at fullback, he showed real promise at halfback and looks to be better suited there in the eyes of many. Blake Ayshford had a very good debut season and will be one player to keep an eye on in 2010. One of the Tigers best all season was English import Gareth Ellis, who had no trouble adapting to the NRL and had an excellent season. At this stage he has proven to be one of the best signings the Tigers have ever made.

With the Tigers Toyota Cup squad finishing in the top 4 and youngesters Robert Lui and Simon Dwyer making their FG debuts, the future looks bright for the Tigers in 2010 with several other players sure to push for selection in 2010. BRET and Wests are also headed towards the finals in the State Cup in another sign of the good depth coming through at the Tigers.

This is my final match report for 2009 and while I’m sure there are some people out there who wonder why I bother, well I like to support the Tigers and the general media always give such crummy, half-hearted reports which leave out the finer details of the games. For those who do read these reports, I hope you find them somewhat useful. They will be back next year but now, this is 2009 signing out.

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