Wests Tigers NSW Cup side have suffered a close 28-20 loss to the Illawarra Cutters today in their Round 13 clash at Workers Arena, Goulburn.

With a string of pre-game changes due to the first-grade appearances of Manaia Cherrington and Nathan Milone on Friday night, Wests Tigers started their Country Round clash against the Cutters in a less-than-perfect start, with Salesi Funaki sent to the sin-bin after just three minutes of play for being the third man in a push-and-shove.

However, Fletcher’s side would respond from that blow with two sensational pieces of attacking play — the first seeing Sitaleki Akauola put John Sila over after five minutes before Sila returned the favour to find Kurtis Rowe after 10 minutes of play.

Josh Drinkwater split the conversions, giving his side a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After repeat set on Wests Tigers’ line, Illawarra hit back in the 20th minute when Tyron Cranston found himself on the end of a good cut-out ball from Drew Hutchinson, and came around to improve the angle and reduce the margin to 10-6.

Wests Tigers would continue to defend valiantly as the Cutters attacked their line, and despite Cranston originally called to be held up after 35 minutes, a call from the touch judge saw the try then awarded — leveling the score at 10-10 approaching half-time.

The visitors would have one final chance for points before the break, and they would take that chance with a try to Salesi Funaki after a kick from Penani Manumealalii.

That gave Wests Tigers a well-deserved 16-10 lead at the break, with the big question being about whether they could hold that lead in the second half, having surrendered 14-0 and 22-4 half-time in their past two matches against Wyong and North Sydney.

Cranston grabbed his third try of the afternoon in the 49th minute after beating Mason Cerruto down the right wing before linking up with Shannon Crook, who returned the pass back to the winger to level the match at 16-all after 46 minutes.

Illawarra would grab their first lead of the match in the 49th minute when a linebreak from Kiti Glymin found Justin Hunt backing up on the inside, and they extended that lead shortly after when Charly Runciman out-jumped Cerruto to score in the 53rd minute.

Two successful conversions from Crook took the Cutters’ lead out to 26-16.

Wests Tigers looked to have hit back in the 62nd minute when Lamar Liolevave charged through on to a grubber from Drinkwater, but the Junior Kiwi forward was tripped from behind as he went to plant the ball down. Incredibly, no penalty was awarded for the incident and the Cutters were able to work the ball from their end, still leading 26-16.

Tyler Cassel went close to scoring in the 69th minute when he carried several defenders over the line, but his appeals were denied as the referee ruled he knocked the ball on.

Fletcher’s side would continue to knock at the door and would eventually cross the line in the 72nd minute when Funaki put Sila over for his second try of the afternoon.

Drinkwater would be unable to add the extras, though, leaving the score at 26-20.

That would prove to be the final chance for Wests Tigers, though, with a soft penalty goal to Crook in the final minutes of the match giving the Cutters a 28-20 lead late in the match, which is how it would read as the full-time siren sounded in Goulburn.

FULL TIME — Illawarra Cutters 28 (Cranston 3, Hunt, Runciman tries; Crook 4/6 goals) def. Wests Tigers 20 (Sila 2, Rowe, Funaki tries; Drinkwater 2/4 goals)