Wests Tigers have made it two wins from as many trial matches in 2014 with a 28-22 victory over the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium on Saturday night.
Length of the field tries to Luke Brooks and Marika Koroibete headlined a spectacular attacking night from the visitors, who scored 22 unanswered points in the second half to blow the Sharks off their own ground and give plenty of confidence heading into their season-opener next fortnight.
A tough opening stanza was highlighted by a bone-rattling tackle from Bodene Thompson on Jono Wright that resulted in the Sharks winger spilling the ball.
Cory Paterson came up with a crafty offload in the following set, finding James Tedesco who was pulled down just 10 metres from the line. Wests Tigers could not convert field position into points with Braith Anasta’s cross-field kick being defused by winger Sosaia Feki.
With the Sharks deep on the attack for three sets in a row, Wests Tigers’ defence held strong with a last-ditch effort by Aaron Woods forcing the ball free from Jeff Robson’s grasp.
The continued pressure from Cronulla was turned when halfback Luke Brooks intercepted a Daniel Holdsworth pass and raced 80-metres to the try line. Pat Richards added the extras for a 6-0 lead after 19 minutes.
Numerous penalties to the home side resulted in the Sharks hitting straight back through Andrew Fifita who barged over close the sticks. Michael Gordon made no mistake with the close-range conversion, locking it up at 6-all after 24 minutes.
Seven minutes out from the break, Wests Tigers had their best attacking chance of the game but a loose pass from James Tedesco was ruled to be a knock-on as Marika Koroibete edged towards the line.
A chip and chase from Thompson down the blind-side nearly resulted in a try, however Gordon was ruled to have caught the ball in-goal despite it eventually coming free.
Wests Tigers consistently threatened the Sharks line in the dying stages of the first half, however both sides remained equal going into the half time break.
Cronulla started much stronger in the second half, and after picking up a repeat set from a Cory Paterson charge-down, soon hit the lead through veteran winger Eric Grothe Jnr. Holdsworth’s kick saw the former Parramatta Eels winger soar the highest and plant the ball down in the corner to give the hosts their first lead of the match.
Holdsworth would miss the conversion to leave the score at 10-6.
The Sharks threatened to go in again after back-to-back penalties, and appeared destined for a repeat set and more pressure when Wade Graham dribbled a kick into the in-goal.
However, it seems nobody told Marika Koroibete about that plan.
The Fijian flyer picked up the ball in his own in-goal, beat two attempted tackles and then ran the length of the field to score next to the posts.
Richard duly added the extras and the visitors would be back in front.
It would be a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the final whistle had blown.
The Wests Tigers crossed again in their next set after that try following some spectacular play on the final tackle. Austin, Anasta, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Blair all somehow managed to keep the ball alive close to the left wing before Richards beat his man and sent Chris Lawrence over for his second try in as many trial matches this year.
Richards’ flawless kicking continued as he converted from the sideline to stretch the lead to 18-10.
Cronulla almost hit back shortly after that when a grubber kick was fallen on in the in-goal from Fifita. However, this time the big forward was ruled to be in front of the kicker, and the penalty allowed the visitors to work it into Sharks’ territory once again.
The results were again immediate as Richards this time crossed out wide, following some swift handling from both Austin and Brooks close to the sideline.
Richards made it four from four when he added another sideline conversion to his tally.
Keith Lulia was the next Wests Tigers player to join the try-scoring action when Tedesco put him over in the right corner just minutes after the Richards try.
Austin’s conversion was wide, but the visitors had put on 22 unanswered points in under 20 minutes to blow what had been a relatively close game wide open.
Cronulls scored two late tries through forward Sam Tagataese in the 71st minute and Nathan Stapleton in the 79th minute to make the scoreline look a little more representable for the hosts, but the damage had already been done by the visitors.
The likes of Richards and Tedesco were impressive in the back-field; Brooks, Anasta and Austin solid in the halves, but this was a total team performance that held both individual brilliance at times as well as gritty goal-line defence.
It meant that the Wests Tigers have now won both of their 2014 trial matches (having defeated Penrith Panthers last fortnight) and head into their season-opener against the St. George-Illawarra Dragons on March 9 confident of a much-improved season.