15 Moments for 15 Seasons
Wests Tigers are counting down the top 15 moments in the Club's history to commemorate with their 15th Anniversary season in the NRL.
As voted by the fans, here's Moment No. 3.
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Most of the players in Wests Tigers’ 2005 squad had never played in an NRL finals match in their entire career. They went into their Preliminary Final against the highly-favoured St. George-Illawarra Dragons outnumbered in the experience column and not given much chance by many so-called “experts” of the game.
But Wests Tigers forward Todd Payten remembers the night differently.
“The energy amongst the group that night was the best I’ve ever felt heading into a rugby league game,” Payten recalled. “For me personally, it was the only game I’ve ever gone in to knowing I was going to win.
"For me personally, it was the only game I've ever gone in to knowing I was going to win..."
“We knew that the pressure was right on the Dragons that match and we knew that if we started well and got in front, we thought the pressure might get to them.
"And that’s what eventuated in the end."
Scoring in the third minute through Benji Marshall off the back of a scrum, Wests Tigers led from start to finish in front of an incredible crowd at Aussie Stadium, but as Dene Halatau recalls, they were never comfortable with the lead.
“We were in front the whole game, but when Wes Naiqama scored in the first half, it just crept them within reach of us,” he said.
“Patty [Richards] then got injured and I ended up going out to the centres and [Shane] Elford to the wing so were a bit disjointed in that second half.
"Late in the game too, Trent Barrett started to fire and the type of player that he is… he’s really creative and can carry a team to victory, so when he started to fire, we thought it was never going to be done until the final whistle went.
“I think they put a kick in close to the final minute and Hodgo [Brett Hodgson] swatted it dead and that’s when we knew we had the game.”
Halatau’s fondest memories of that night, though, came in his preparation, with the lock forward sharing an incredible insight into how he (and some of his close friends in that team) got ready for the biggest match of their lives.
“That’s kind of funny,” laughed Halatau.
“The whole finals series, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall would stay with me at my Mum’s place the night before every game.
“Robbie would cook us dinner and we’d play Stick Cricket on the computer and just try to relax as much as we could. It was just a whole lot of fun.
"Robbie would cook us dinner and we'd play Stick Cricket on the computer and just try to relax as much as we could..."
“We were so excited coming off that Brisbane semi-final the week before so we just had to try and control that as best we could.
"Eating food and playing Stick Cricket seemed to do the trick for us,” he laughed.
“I think Robbie was top scorer that night,” said Halatau.
“But Benji and I scored in the game so we ended up having the last laugh.”
Both Halatau and Payten paid tribute to the incredible atmosphere generated on the night by Wests Tigers fans — saying that the atmosphere and fans was the greatest they’d ever played in front of throughout their career.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” said Payten. “It was the best atmosphere I’ve played in front of — better than the Grand Final.”
"It was the best atmosphere I've played in front of — better than the Grand Final..."
“There’d been talk all week about the tickets being sold out to all the Dragons fans because they’d had the two weeks off and they knew they were going to be playing,” Halatau said. “They said there was only going to be a quarter of the crowd on the night as our fans.
“But when we ran out there for warmups: I’ve never heard a cheer like it.
“It was the best atmosphere; the Wests Tigers fans were making more noise than the Dragons fans, and it wasn’t even close.
“It’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in — without a doubt.
“I’ve never watched the game again,” admitted Halatau, “but I remember that night pretty clear. The fans were just unbelievable.”
Check out the other Top 15 Moments: