Wests Tigers have suffered a 32-22 defeat by the fourth-placed Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tonight at ANZ Stadium.
The Bulldogs went into the Round 18 encounter on a three-game winning streak and with it being the week before State of Origin III, Wests Tigers were without skipper Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah and James Tedesco.
It was a gutsy display from Jason Taylor’s men, which included a perfect first half completion rate and a tough defensive display.
Wests Tigers got off to a flying start, with Mitchell Moses putting in a deft grubber behind the line with right centre Kevin Naiqama diving on the ball to score the opening try of the match.
Moses converted the try from just to the right of the sticks to make it a 6-0 lead after just five minutes of play.
Sauaso Sue left the field in the 7th minute with a leg injury, resulting reserve prop Ava Seumanufagai getting a quicker than usual entry into the match.
Canterbury-Bankstown were denied a chance to hit back in the 10th minute, with Naiqama coming over in cover defence to force Brett Morris over the sideline.
The Bulldogs bounced back on the next set with Greg Eastwood throwing a cut-out pass to Morris, who drew in the fullback Jordan Rankin and found Moses Mbye back on the inside.
Mbye was unable to convert his own try from the sideline, with Wests Tigers holding a 6-4 lead after 14 minutes.
Wests Tigers extended their lead on the back of a penalty against Bulldogs second rower Asipeli Fine, with Moses nailing the penalty goal to make it 8-4 after 20 minutes.
The visitors went further ahead when winger Joshua Addo-Carr produced a piece of individual brilliance from his own half, burning Bulldogs fullback Sam Perrett and running 80-metres to score.
Moses had his easiest attempt of the night from in front of the posts, extending his side’s lead out to 14-4 after 24 minutes.
The Bulldogs were back in the match soon after, with Naiqama’s intercept attempt going wrong, finishing with Brett Morris going over to score.
Mbye converted and pegged the Wests Tigers lead back to 14-10 after 28 minutes.
Off the next set, Canterbury-Bankstown raced away for a long range try from Josh Reynolds’ line-break, with the playmaker finding Will Hopoate who went over to even the scores at 14-all.
Mbye put the Bulldogs in the lead with an easy conversion, making it a 16-14 advantage for the home side with nine minutes to play before half-time.
Wests Tigers withheld a huge amount of pressure right before the break, with a number of impressive defensive displays to hold their opponents out.
Right on the stroke of half time, Moses nailed an impressive 42-metre penalty goal to even the scores at 16-all going into the break.
Wests Tigers opened the second half in the same way they started the game, with a last play scramble resulting a try to NRL debutant Jacob Liddle, who was on the back of a brilliant offload from Elijah Taylor.
Moses converted to take the lead out to six points, with the scoreboard reading 22-16 after 45 minutes.
It looked as though it would be back-to-back tries when Tim Simona made a line-break on the left edge, with the Samoan International putting in a kick back on the inside that bounced up for Rankin – who spilled the ball with the try-line in sight.
The Bulldogs were denied a try to Aiden Tolman in the 55th minute, with Curtis Rona ruled offside by the NRL Bunker in another frantic last tackle play.
It was déjà vu in the 59th minute when Brett Morris was ruled by the Bunker to have been held up by Naiqama, overturning the on-field decision of try by referee Ashley Klein.
However, it was all to no avail with Morris scoring two tackles later from a simple draw and pass, as Mbye missed the conversion with his side trailing 22-20 after 61 minutes.
With the Bulldogs getting a full set on the attack from a Nofoaluma mistake, they punished Wests Tigers from the ensuing set as Curtis Rona strolled through a hole in the defence.
Mbye converted the try, with Canterbury-Bankstown back in the lead 26-22 after 65 minutes.
The Bulldogs win was sealed with 40 seconds remaining on the clock, with winger Sam Perrett going over in the corner and Mbye converted to make it 32-22.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 26 (Morris 2, Mbye, Hopoate, Rona, Perrett tries; Mbye 4/6 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 22 (Naiqama, Addo-Carr, Liddle tries; Moses 5/5 goals)