The Wests Tigers have started the Michael Maguire era with a tough win, outlasting the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20-6 in front of a full house at Leichhardt Oval in dreadful conditions.
The game was soured by torrential rain for the duration of the first half, with neither team able to hold on to the ball long enough to mount any real attacking pressure. The first 30 minutes were an arm wrestle, with the game largely being contested in the middle third of the field. The Tigers had the better of the attacking possession in the first half, but were not able to crack the stout defense Manly showed on their goal line. Daly Cherry-Evans opened the scoring in the 28th minute, converting a penalty goal from 30 metres out right in front to put the visitors up 2-0. Not long after this, Manly five-eighth Kane Elgey put Brendan Elliot through a gaping hole with a nice inside ball, and Elliot bombed a certain try when he opted not to pass to an unmarked Brad Parker on his outside who would have strolled over untouched just before halftime.
The rain eased in the second half, and the Tigers were able to take advantage. They levelled the scores in the 44th minute when Esan Marsters converted a penalty goal right in front. Five minutes later, the Tigers scored the first try of the game when a Luke Brooks kick ricocheted off a Manly defender for Robbie Farah to dive on the loose ball in the in-goal to give the home side an 8-2 lead. Not long after that the Tigers were able to open up Manly’s defense once again as young second rower Luke Garner broke the line and scored a great individual try to put the home side up two converted tries.
Farah put the icing on the cake later in the game, as he caught some tired Manly forwards napping when he scooted out of dummy half and scored his second try next to the posts to increase the lead to 20-2. Manly were able to score their only try of the game with less than a minute remaining through Jorge Taufua, but it was too little too late as the Tigers ran away with a gritty 20-6 win at home to start their year on the right foot.
Torrential rain causes havoc
The weather was the biggest influence over the result and flow of this game. Both sides had immense difficulty controlling possession with a number of handling errors plaguing the first half. The score line was also affected by the weather, with the conditions preventing both sides from spreading the ball wide to their outside backs. As a result, the defense was condensed from the get go, which made point scoring difficult and reduced the majority of the game to a slow grind.
Defense and possession key to gritty win
With the attack from both teams heavily handicapped by the conditions, defense was always going to be key to victory in this game. In the early stages, Manly showed an impressive amount of grit and determination to prevent the Tigers from scoring after giving away a few big attacking opportunities. The Tigers matched this effort in the first half and bettered it in the second, and would have kept Manly try-less if it wasn’t for a last second effort from Jorge Taufua to spoil the clean sheet.
Absent stars and ill discipline costly for Manly
Manly may be able to use the weather as an excuse for a number of handling errors they committed throughout the game, but there were times when poor decision-making and lack of execution really let them down. It was clear they were missing Tom Trbojevic in attack, as they lacked any real spark or play making ability for the majority of the game. Daly Cherry-Evans was under pressure being the only focal point for the Manly attack, and it showed several times when the Tigers were able to pressure him into a rushed kick or force an error to give up valuable field position.
Experienced heads lead the way for young Tigers
A lot of attention in the pre-season was placed on the youth the Tigers had either signed or brought into the team through the lower grades, but it was Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah who shined when it mattered most. Not only did Farah score two tries, but he was instrumental in taking some pressure off both Marshall and Brooks with some valuable kicks out of dummy half. Marshall was also influential in the second half, as he took control of the play with his kicking game, using the conditions to his advantage by pinning Manly in some tough positions to start their sets from deep within their own half.
Wests Tigers 20
Tries: Robbie Farah 2, Luke Garner
Goals: Esan Marsters 4/4
Drop Goals: N/A
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6
Tries: Jorge Taufua
Goals: Daly Cherry-Evans 1/2
Drop Goals: N/A
Wests Tigers: 1. Corey Thompson, 2. Mahe Fonua, 3. Paul Momirovski, 4. Esan Marsters, 5. Robert Jennings, 6. Benji Marshall (c), 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Ben Matulino, 9. Robbie Farah, 10. Alex Twal, 11. Ryan Matterson, 12. Luke Garner, 13. Elijah Taylor Interchange: 14. Russell Packer, 15. Thomas Mikaele, 16. Josh Aloiai, 17. Michael Chee-Kam.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles: 1. Brendan Elliot, 2. Jorge Taufua, 3. Moses Suli, 4. Brad Parker, 5. Reuben Garrick, 6. Kane Elgey, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8. Addin Fonua-Blake, 9. Apisai Koroisau, 10. Martin Taupau, 11. Joel Thompson, 12. Curtis Sironen, 13. Jake Trbojevic Interchange: 14. Trent Hodkinson, 15. Jack Gosiewski, 16. Kelepi Tanginoa, 17. Toafofoa Sipley