Parramatta spoiled Benji Marshall’s 300th game party, winning an entertaining match at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Despite an energetic start from both teams, the first score of the game came via the first of three Mitchell Moses penalty goals. The first try went to the Tigers after Corey Thompson finished off an elaborate decoy-heavy play crafted by Benji Marshall.
The Eels stormed into half time leading 16-4, with Brad Takairangi scoring two tries in three minutes just before the break: the first in the 32nd minute was courtesy of a perfect grubber from Moses, the second after he finished off a right side move carrying two Tigers on his back as he planted the ball.
The Wests Tigers opened the scoring in the second half with David Nofoaluma finishing off a great set play from the Tigers with an inch or two to spare in the corner. They looked to have drawn even closer soon after when Corey Thompson looked to have scooped up a David Nofoaluma infield kick, but was ruled offside. Of course the Eels punished them by scoring through Blake Ferguson.
A powerful Moses Mbye run set up another Tigers try to Robert Jennings, closing the deficit to 22-12, but it was as close as they got as Brad Takairangi scored his third try with nine minutes left. Nofoaluma’s late try (his second) was a consolation for the Tigers.
Benji Marshall: an Unlikely 300 Game Club Member?
In a weekend that celebrated some big milestones, Benji Marshall’s 300th game seems the most unlikely, and his comeback is a good story for rugby league.
He decided to leave the Wests Tigers in 2014 for a chance at Super Rugby success with Auckland, but that ended with just one start and a handful of appearance off the bench. His return NRL stint with St George-Illawarra brought some success, and a 250th game, but at the end of 2016 it looked like the NRL had moved on.
He accepted that his next deal with the Broncos in 2017 would mean playing more at Dolphin Oval than Suncorp Stadium, but he thrived with the Broncos enough to return home at the end of the year.
His move back to the Wests Tigers has worked, and when free from injury there has been signs of his best, and they still appear to be a better side with him. He and Robbie Farah have brought much needed experience in the wake of the big four getting on and off buses.
He doesn’t have Cam Smith’s record-breaking numbers, but it is still one of the great NRL careers.
Blake Ferguson is an Enigma
When Parramatta signed Blake Ferguson for 2019, one could be forgiven for raising eyebrows given some of the success of previous big name signings.
And while every game hasn’t been gold, he has more often than not brought plenty for the Eels.
Today’s output was a very respectable: a try, 109 metres in 13 runs, a couple of offloads, and none of errors that can accompany Ferguson’s game. His offload when heading into touch which led to the Eels’ first try moments later was just a taste of what he can offer.
While he wasn’t the headline act of the Eels’ backline today (after Brad Takairangi scored three tries), he has the X factor. Given how he thrived for NSW during the week, he may drive the Eels towards dark horse status in the finals.
Goalkicking a worry for the Tigers
The Wests Tigers are a great, hard-working team, who battle as hard as anyone in the competition. As a result there is not a lot in their games, so the little things matter.
Which brings up goalkicking.
The goalkicking for the Tigers has been underwhelming lately, 1/4 in today’s game and 1/3 in the previous round. It may just be a blip in confidence for Esan Marsters, but with the battle for the last few spots in the top eight so tight, they will need every point.
Whilst it didn’t cost the Tigers today, it has earlier in the season, and missing the two extra points puts on more pressure to score more tries, something the Tigers don’t find that easy.
Can the Eels be a Finals Dark Horse?
Having a look at the NRL ladder following the end of round 17, you’d be forgiven – with the distraction of State of Origin – to be a little surprised to see the Eels in sixth place, and they are just two points away from the third-placed Canberra Raiders.
They have some great players in form in key positions like Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson, and the return of Nathan Brown was always going to be a bonus. He was excellent in Sunday’s clash.
Add to that some real firepower in the forwards like Junior Paulo, Manu Ma’u and Tepai Moeroa and you have a decent-looking side heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
A new X factor is their form at the new stadium, which on TV sounds like a tremendous atmosphere and surely worth a extra try or two.
Finally, they have a great run home. Their highest-ranked opponent before September is Manly in fifth, and five of their last eight games are against bottom eight sides. The opportunity is there.
Wests Tigers 18
Tries: David Nofoaluma (2), Corey Thompson, Robert Jennings
Goals: Moses Mbye 1/2 Esan Marsters 0/2
Parramatta Eels 30
Tries: Brad Takairangi 3, Blake Ferguson
Goals: Mitchell Moses 7/7
Wests Tigers: 1. Corey Thompson, 2. Robert Jennings, 3. Moses Mbye, 4. Esan Marsters, 5. David Nofoaluma, 6. Benji Marshall, 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Josh Aloiai, 9. Robbie Farah, 10. Alex Twal, 11. Ryan Matterson, 12. Chris Lawrence, 13. Matthew Eisenhuth. Interchange: 14. Jacob Liddle, 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Elijah Taylor, 17. Michael Chee Kam.
Parramatta Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson, 2. Maika Sivo, 3. Brad Takairangi, 4. Josh Hoffman, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. Dylan Brown, 7. Mitchell Moses, 8. Kane Evans, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Junior Paulo, 11. Shaun Lane, 12. Manu Ma’u, 13. Nathan Brown. Interchange: 14. Jaeman Salmon, 15. Marata Niukore, 16. David Gower, 17. Tepai Moeroa.