Wests Tigers NSW Cup squad have pulled off one of the most improbable comeback victories over the New Zealand Warriors with a last-gasp 32-26 win at Westpac Stadium.
The visitors scored three tries in the final seven minutes — including one after the siren to Blake Austin — to comeback from 26-16 down for the most unlikely of wins.
The match started in perfect fashion for the Wests Tigers, with Austin’s kickoff going dead in goal and forcing a repeat set for the visitors.
And after earning another repeat set through a well-weighted grubber from Nathan Waters, it would be the visitors who crossed first through Austin.
The five-eighth took on the line and burst through to plant the ball down for his sixth try of the year and give Wests Tigers a 4-0 lead.
His sideline conversion was wide in very windy conditions.
Carlos Tuimavave hit back for the Warriors in the ninth minute after burrowing over close to the line. The fullback appeared to both lose the ball and struggle to put it down but the referee ruled in favour of the hosts to level the match at 4-4.
After picking up a kick from the Warriors in his own end, dominant winger Taqele Naiyaravoro crossed for another spectacular try after beating two players and then brushing away from Tuimavave to plant the ball down in the corner.
Austin’s sideline conversion was again blown wide to leave the score at 8-4.
The hosts then hit the lead in the 28th minute when Abraham Papalii crossed for a simple try close to the line after some miscommunication in defence.
That allowed Tuimoala Lolohea to give the hosts a 10-8 lead.
When David Fusitua crossed in the 33rd minute in the right corner following a sharp back-line move, the Warriors had extended their lead to 14-8, which is how the score would read at half-time. Austin threatened to reduce the gap on the siren, but his final pass to Kurtis Rowe just ran into touch to end the half.
It was the hosts who started the stronger in the second half following a wave of penalties and possession, and they eventually crossed through Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Lolohea made no mistake with the simple conversion to extend the Warriors’ lead to 20-8 just after half-time, but the lead was short lived.
A strong run from Joel Luani won a repeat set for the hosts, and it was Setefano Taukafa who hit back for the visitors after burrowing over from dummy half.
Austin’s conversion was wide, leaving the score at 20-12.
The Warriors restored the lead soon after, though, when Dominique Peyroux ran on to another short ball close to the line. Rowe did his best to hold the centre up, but he simply had too much power and planted the ball down next to the posts.
Lolohea converted to blow the score out beyond two tries.
It took a linebreak from front-rower Nathan Brown to get the Wests Tigers back into the match in the 61st minute. The prop found winger Jy Hitchcox on the inside, before Austin shifted the ball wide to Taukafa on the following play who acrobatically managed to plant the ball down in the corner despite heavy attention from the defence.
Austin missed another tough conversion to leave the score at 26-16.
The score seemed destined to be a Warriors victory, but it was clear that nobody told the Wests Tigers. Another barnstorming run from Naiyaravoro — beating four defenders down the sideline — reduced the gap to 26-20 before a try to Kurtis Rowe in the 78th minute gave the visitors a chance at leveling the scores.
Austin nailed his first conversion of the day to lock the scores at 26-26.
What would follow was utter madness.
Austin missed a field goal attempt with 45 seconds to go before an improbable one-on-one strip by Naiyavoro gave the visitors one last chance at victory.
Waters made a linebreak and a quick play the ball before Austin stepped through four defenders on the siren to plant the ball down and give the Wests Tigers one of the most incredible comeback victories seen this season.
The visitors had scored three tries in seven minutes to win it and, in doing so, consolidated their top-four position in the VB NSW Cup competition.