Wests Tigers have been defeated narrowly 32-22 by the New Zealand Warriors tonight at Mount Smart Stadium in Round 6 of the NRL.
The match was well and truly in the balance right up until the final minutes, despite the Warriors racing out to an early 20-6 lead.
New Zealand entered Mount Smart Stadium to a huge cheer from their supporters who had turned out in numbers to celebrate winger Manu Vatuvei’s 200th NRL game.
Wests Tigers squandered a chance to open the scoring in the 2nd minute as Tim Simona had Pat Richards unmarked to his left but the ball went to ground and the Warriors survived the first real attacking raid of the match.
Simona was quick to make amends, finishing a brilliant piece of play from skipper Robbie Farah who burst through the line from dummy-half and found Mitchell Moses who then lobbed a speculator out to the Samoan International to score. Richards made no mistake with the conversion for a 6-0 lead after seven minutes.
The man-of-the-moment Vatuvei was awarded a contentious try in the 17th minute, as it looked as though Kevin Naiqama and Chris Lawrence had pushed the winger into touch before he had grounded the ball. The try was awarded though and Wests Tigers held a 6-4 lead with Shaun Johnson’s conversion waved away.
Warriors five-eighth Chad Townsend brushed aside Wests Tigers’s goal-line defence to score under the posts in the 24th minute. The conversion from Shaun Johnson edged New Zealand in front even further at 10-6.
Just moments later Konrad Hurrell found open space on the right edge, bumping off Brooks and SImona and sending fullback Tuimoala Lolohea over for the home side’s third try of the match. Johnson made no mistake with the conversion to make it 16-6 after 27 minutes.
With his side well and truly on the front foot, Johnson took advantage on the back of some second-phase play snuck around Simona and grounded the ball inside the right corner post. The conversion was waved away but the Warriors’ lead had now raced out to 20-6 after 32 minutes.
On the back of an error from the home side, Wests Tigers were able to claw back into the match with fullback James Tedesco slicing through to score his sixth try of the season from as many games. Richards converted the try to reduce the margin to 20-12 after 35 minutes.
That’s how the scoreboard would read at the half-time break in what was an entertaining first 40 minutes from both sides.
Wests Tigers were unable to capitalise on back-to-back penalties soon after the break as Brooks looked to spread it with the numbers but the pass was interfered by prop Aaron Woods and the Warriors escaped with their line intact.
Simona produced a great individual effort in the 53rd minute of the match, palming off Hurrell and Johnson and crossing for his second try of the game. Continuing his perfect strike-rate, Richards pegged the score back to 20-18.
Wests Tigers continued the pressure on the Warriors line soon after thanks to a mistake from Vatuvei, however Farah’s attacking grubber was a touch too big with Simona chasing hard.
As the Warriors worked it down-field in the 59th minute, Woods was placed on report for late contact on Townsend.
It resulted in more pressure on the visitors’ goal-line defence, but a Warriors mistake soon after saw it quickly relieved.
New Zealand eventually found their way over in the 70th minute as Vatuvei bagged his second of the match, this time from a Solomone Kata offload. Johnson made the all important conversion to make it an eight-point ball game at 26-18.
A mistake from Kata coming out of his own half gave Wests Tigers another opportunity. A blindside play from Farah and Tedesco found an open Richards who crossed in the corner to ensure a grandstand finish to the match at 26-22 with five minutes remaining.
A contentious late-try to former Wests Tiger Bodene Thompson sealed the victory for the home side in the 79th minute. Johnson converted for a final score of 32-22.
Wests Tigers will look to turn it around next Sunday afternoon in front of a home crowd at Leichhardt Oval against the Canberra Raiders.
New Zealand 32 (Vatuvei 2, Thompson, Johnson, Townsend, Lolohea tries; Johnson 4 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 22 (Simona 2, Richards, Tedesco tries; Richards 3 goals)