Wests Tigers have posted a courageous 28-24 victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs to win their elimination final on Friday night at Allianz Stadium.
Despite trailing 16-0 early, South Sydney clawed ther way back into the match to take the lead mid-way through the second half, before a clinical final 20 minutes saw Wests Tigers emerge with a thrilling four-point win from the night.
Boosted by the late inclusion of junior representative stars Mitchell Moses and Matthew Lodge to the starting team, Wests Tigers got off to a dream start, with a towering bomb from Te Maire Martin drawing an error from the visitors. Salesi Funaki was on hand to collect the drop and offload to Delouise Hoeter, who raced away to score in the corner after just 70 seconds of play. Eli Levido converted from the sideline to push the lead out to 6-0.
Funaki continued his bright start just moments later when he burst on to a great short ball from Levido to crash over out on the right flank.
The halfback added the extras to extend the lead to 12-0 after eight minutes.
A great floating pass from Martin saw John Ogden latch on to the ball out wide, and the winger soon gave Wests Tigers their third try of the night with a strong finish inside the touchline, which Levido was unable to convert.
Souths slowly began to work their way back into the match as the possession battle began to even itself out, and they soon crossed for their first points of the night when Sam Manuleleua crossed in the corner after 29 minutes.
Devon Makoare-Boyce converted from the sideline to take the score to 16-6.
Both teams would threaten to score late in the piece, but some gritty defence from the “hosts” saw Souths held at bay as Wests Tigers took a 16-6 lead into the half-time interval in front of a vocal crowd at Allianz Stadium.
Wests Tigers had a great chance to post points immediately after the break following a Souths error, but a poor kick gifted the Rabbitohs a seven-tackle set, which they took to full advantage in the ensuing set through Brock Gray as he crashed over under the posts to reduce the score back to 16-12.
Andrew Kazzi looked to restore Wests Tigers’ advantage when he scooped up a loose ball close to the posts after 47 minutes, but after further inspection from upstairs, the energetic forward was ruled to be offside and Souths survived.
After a controversial knock-on and subsequent play-the-ball, Souths took their first lead of the match when Jack Gosiewski crashed through the line close to the posts — giving Makoare-Boyce a simple conversion to take the score to 18-16.
Ogden threatened to grab his second of the night after 50 minutes when Martin sent him down the sideline; however, some desperate diving defence saw him spill the ball just short of the line and eliminate any chance for points.
A dangerous shoulder charge from Tyler Cassel saw him placed on report in the 58th minute, with the forward perhaps lucky to be still out on the field.
Both teams had chances denied as forward passes and knock-ons ensured a close finish to the match, before damaging centre Watson Heleta scored a superb solo try in the 61st minute to put Wests Tigers back in front 22-18.
A great left edge move saw Ogden cross for his second of the night following a great short ball from Martin, with Levido adding the extras to push the margin out to 28-18 with just over seven mintues remaining in the match.
And while the visitors would cross for a length-of-the-field try on the siren through Tom Hughes, it wouldn’t be enough to topple Wests Tigers, who moved on to the next round of the NYC finals with a gutsy 28-24 victory.
Final: Wests Tigers 28 def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 24