Wests Tigers NSW Cup side have come from behind to steal a 34-32 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs and keep their unbeaten start to 2015 alive.
Having spent 60 minutes of the match playing with 12 men following Joel Luani’s first half send-off, Wests Tigers led 22-8 mid-way through the second half before a spirited Bulldogs comeback saw the visitors lead 32-22 with nine minutes to play at Leichhardt Oval.
However, despite seeming being down and out of the contest, Paul Fletcher’s side rallied back with tries to Wes Lolo and Chance Peni inside the final seven minutes to post victory.
The win ensures Wests Tigers remain undefeated throughout 2015, and are just one of two teams alongside Mounties RLFC yet to lose a match this year.
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It was Wests Tigers who opened the scoring after just three minutes of play when Lolo crashed through the Bulldogs’ left edge defence to score next to the posts, with Josh Drinkwater’s simple conversion extending their lead to 6-0.
The Bulldogs would hit back not long after, though, as Tyrone Phillips found some space on the right wing and touched down in the corner to reduce the margin to 6-4.
Chase Stanley was unable to add the extras and the score remained 6-4 after 11 minutes.
After a big hit from Sitaleki Akauola dislodged the ball from Corey Thompson and saw the fullback taken from the field with injury, the Tongan international followed that up with a great try himself, weaving his way through two before planting it down out wide.
Drinkwater again added the extras to push the lead to 12-4 after 21 minutes.
After several flare-ups within a handful of minutes that saw both Jason Shirnack, Joel Luani and both captains spoke to by the referee, Luani was sensationally sent from the field in the 27th minute for allegedly kicking a Bulldogs player in the head.
That would see the Bulldogs have an extra man advantage for the remainder of the match, and they would soon put that to full effect, as Lloyd Perrett fed a good short ball to Shaun Lane for the back-rower to score next to the posts after 31 minutes.
Stanley again missed the very makeable conversion, leaving the scoreline at 12-8, which is how it would read as both teams headed to the half-time sheds at Leichhardt Oval.
Wests Tigers would strike quickly after the break to extend their lead to 18-8, with Drinkwater throwing the dummy before spinning away to score under the posts. New recruit Penani Manumalealii then joined the action and quickly left his mark on the match, grubbering through for Delouise Hoeter his first try of the game out wide.
A tough sideline conversion was missed by Drinkwater, leaving Wests Tigers with a 22-8 lead over the Bulldogs with just under half an hour remaining in the match.
As the toll of defending with 12 men started to show for Wests Tigers, it was the Bulldogs who reduced the margin with a flurry of tries — first to Thompson in the 57th minute before the fullback got involved again to put Lane over for his second try.
Stanley’s successful conversions saw the gap reduced to just 22-20 in the 63rd minute and it didn’t take long for the visitors to take the lead for the first point in the match, with Fualalo burrowing his way down line to sneak over the line in the 68th minute.
Another conversion from Stanley saw the Bulldogs’ lead extended to 26-22.
A spectacular try down the right wing seemingly sealed the match for the visitors, whose fourth try in the space of 15 minutes saw them lead 32-22.
However, there was far more drama to come in the match, as Wests Tigers refused to bow out of the match despite the scoreline and having a man off the field.
A second try to Lolo after a good short ball from Kyle Lovett in the 75th minute gave Fletcher’s side a sniff of victory as they cut the visitors’ lead to 32-28, before a moment of magic involving Sitaleki Akauola and Chance Peni saw the former Junior Kiwi put a wonderful move on Thompson and race away to score next to the posts.
Drinkwater made no mistake with the nervy conversion — giving Wests Tigers a 34-32 lead with two minutes remainingthat they would hold to the death.
Wests Tigers will look to make it four wins in a row when they take on the only other undefeated team in the NSW Cup competition, Mounties RLFC, next week.
Kickoff for the match is at Leichhardt Oval from 3:00pm on Saturday, March 28.
Wests Tigers 34 (Lolo 2, Akauola, Drinkwater, Hoeter, Peni tries; Drinkwater 5/6 goals) def. Bulldogs (Lane 2, Phillips 2, Thompson, Fualalo tries; Stanley 4/6 goals)