The Wests Tigers have started their 2020 campaign in a resilient manner winning 24-14 against a more experienced St George Illawarra Dragons team.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although it wasn’t pretty, Michael Maguire’s men managed to overcome a poor start and beat a middle of the pack team which is exactly what the Tigers need to do if they have any aspirations to make the top 8.
Here is my immediate reaction to the game.
The team showed impressive resilience
It’s not very often that the words resilience and Wests Tigers are used in the same sentence but full credit to the boys today as they found a way to grind out a win away from home which is a great sign going into 2020.
The Tigers showed some real desperation defending their goal line and what’s pleasing for Michael Maguire is that the team wrestled back momentum with great defense and hard running.
I want to highlight a play where Alex Twal and Elijah Taylor made an excellent low tackle on Blake Lawrie that stopped a certain try.
If the Dragons score on that play, it’s a different ball game so the two middle forwards did a great job.
In the second half, the Tigers also did a great job forcing repeat sets which really frustrated the Dragons. Marshall’s game management in particular really pressured the Dragons out of the contest.
The Poor start
In the history of the Wests Tigers, I don’t think I’ve seen a worse start to a game. The Dragons literally scored on their first possession and the Tigers, just like in the Warrior’s trial game, didn’t respect the ball enough giving away too much cheap ball and not completing their sets.
The Tigers were lucky that the Dragons only scored one try in the opening period and against top 8 teams, the team simply just needs to be better.
Corey please never do that again!
Let’s address the elephant in the room. I have so much respect for Corey Thompson. He’s really had to work hard and earn his place in first grade and was one of the Tigers best last year but oh my god what was he thinking with the Lomax try?
This was such a crucial part of the game which allowed the dragons to regain momentum after our forwards were starting to get on a roll. However, Thompson didn’t let this mistake get him down and was quite solid for the rest of the game.
Just for the love of God, tuck the ball under the arm next time, please!
Thomas Mikaele looked very impressive
A player that really impressed me today was Thomas Mikaele. I didn’t think that the big forward played that well against the Warriors but he really impressed me with how much he’s improved since last year.in 59 minutes of play, Mikaela recorded 12 runs for 121 m, 21 tackles, 2 offloads and 3 tackle breaks which is amazing considering he came off the bench.
The key now for Mikaele is to perform this way every week because Tigers fan knows he’s capable.
My favorite play was when Mikaele rocked Paul Vaughn in the first half in a tackle which is really impressive as the Dragons player is considered one of the best props in the world so it was great to see the young Tiger take the challenge to shut him down.
Our Forward pack was very impressive
I really think our forwards outperformed a Dragons pack which boasted some really big names. One of my concerns going into the season was that the Tigers pack struggled last year making meters up the middle of the field. However, the Tigers middles really stood up with Twal, Aloiai, Taylor, and Mikaela all running for over 100 meters.
This is a great sign for the young Tigers forwards back which was labeled the worst by Fox Sports in the preseason but this criticism didn’t stop Wests from rolling the dragons on several occasions.
I thought Luciano Leilua’s performance was also very impressive as he played 80 minutes recording 31 tackles out of 31 attempts and running for 117 meters. It was also great to see the passion the young forward played with against his old team and I can’t wait to see him play more this season.
I feel sorry for Josh Reynolds
Watching the game, I was quite frustrated with Reynolds and his decision making. It must be tough for Reynolds though because it’s well known that he had a disruptive off-season.
Reynolds also spent most of the preseason training at Hooker and I think that this has really affected his timing and feel for the game at Five-eight. If Brooks is out for a long amount of time, I really want to see Reynolds give more early ball to his outside backs and let the game come to him rather than trying to force the issue.
I have to congratulate Reynolds for getting under the skin of Tariq Sims and James Graham however because it was great entertainment on the sideline.
The Tigers need to play straight
The Tigers had a lot of ball in the Dragons twenty and for a long time in the game and I thought that the attack was too sideways and lacked depth with particularly Reynolds and Thompson skipping across defenders which took away space for players like Joey Leilua and Adam Doueihi.
When the Tigers started to straighten up they looked much better. Great direct running from Joey Leilua and then Thomas Mikaele opened up space for Marshall to score which is when we got back in the game.
The Tigers needed to give early ball to the edges.
If the same team is named for round 2 then surely the Tigers need to start giving more early ball to the edges.
The Leilua brothers and Adam Doueihi looked so dangerous when they were given the ball with space and time.
The game showed how important Luke Brooks is to the team
At certain parts of the game, I really think the Tigers lacked a sense of control and direction. Although Marshall did well to control the ship, the team really missed Brooks and his ability to straighten up the attack and keep the defensive line honest.
Brooks gets a lot of criticism from certain Tigers fan but to me, the skillful Halfback is the team’s best player and I hope he’s back in the team soon.
The Hooking dilemma isn’t solved
Watching the game, it was clear to see how hard Billy Walters was trying but he just doesn’t look like a Hooker. He just seems to struggle with the 1 percenters associated with the Hooking position such as his service from Dummy half and defense in the middle of the field.
Rumor has it that the Harry Grant deal could happen as soon as next week and if so would be a massive inclusion for the team.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Billy Walters is a first grader but I just think he should be considered in his more natural role as a Five-Eight.
Adam Doueihi should play Fullback against the Knights
The Lebanese international looked really dangerous with every touch of the ball in his first-grade debut for the club, especially when given space.
I can understand the argument that Maguire wants to reward Thompson for training well in the pre-season but Doueihi’s frame, size and ball-playing ability make him more of a threat from the back.
I would put Doueihi at Fullback and move Thompson to the left-wing in the place of Robert Jennings who left two tries on the field begging.
The Dragons nearly stole the game in the last few minutes
Although the Tigers did well to grind out a win, the game could have easily gone the Dragons way with Tyson Frizell causing havoc on the right edge and bombing an absolute sitter.
Michael Maguire would be disappointed with the team in this regard especially since the Tigers left plenty of points on the field which could have easily lead to a Dragons win.
However, a win is a win and the Tigers should take away confidence knowing that they came away with a win away from home with plenty to build on going into round 2
My man of the match
Like a good whiskey, Benji Marshall just seems to get better with age. Marshall led the team to victory against the Dragons bagging a try and directing the team around the field which is just great to see for Tigers fans as the Keebra Park product is a true champion of the game.
Second-best could have gone to so many other players especially in the forward pack but my honorable mention goes to David Nofoaluma for scoring two tries, 6 tackle breaks and running for 193 meters.