Top 5 at Five: Season Openers
There’s just something about Round 1.
Perhaps it’s the fact that months and months of pre-season training has led to this game; perhaps it’s the fact that finally, fans can watch their favourite players in action again.
Whatever the case, Round 1 is always special— filled with of hope and excitement — and over the years, it’s been a round that’s provided several memorable moments.
From Golden Point field goals to thrilling comebacks, Wests Tigers have enjoyed several enthralling season openers, and we count down on our top five heading into 2017.
5. 2000, Wests Tigers 24 drew with Brisbane Broncos 24
Kicking off our top five is the first game in Wests Tigers history, which saw the newly-formed joint-venture claw their way back against the Brisbane Broncos to record a thrilling draw. Crossing for first points in the match through John Skandalis, Wests Tigers soon found themselves trailing 24-6 midway through the second half, before a hat-trick to fullback Joel Caine allowed the home side to sensationally level the match.
And although neither time could grab a winner in the 80 minutes, the match remains iconic to all Wests Tigers fans as an afternoon that a new team was well and truly born.
4. 2002, Wests Tigers 28 def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 22
The Bulldogs’ 2002 season will be remembered for many things — one of which won’t be their Round 1 defeat at the hands of Wests Tigers. Incredibly, leading into Round 22, the season opening defeat to Wests Tigers was the only loss the Bulldogs had recorded all year before being stripped of their competition points due to salary cap breaches — such was the nature of the opening round upset.
Coming into the match as firm underdogs, Wests Tigers led the Bulldogs 14-6 at half-time, before a late rally from the Bulldogs saw their lead cut to 24-22 with minutes remaining.
However, a late effort from Hassan Saleh sealed an upset six-point win for the visitors and gave Wests Tigers the perfect start to the 2002 season.
3. 2006, Wests Tigers 24 def. St. George-Illawarra Dragons
After a fairytale 2005 season that culminated in Tim Sheens’ side winning the Club’s maiden premiership, Wests Tigers entered 2006 as the hunted, and opened the season with a Preliminary Final rematch against the St. George-Illawarra Dragons. After a tight start to the game, a hat-trick to Mark Gasnier gave the Dragons a 14-8 lead late in the second half. Paul Whatuira leveled the match at 14-all with 15 minutes to play, before a Trent Barrett field goal restored the Dragons lead once again.
However, there was one more twist still to come, with Benxi Marshall sparking a late try for Wests Tigers, hitting Michael Crockett with two minutes to play to put the home side back in front. Whatuira would then grab his second off the back of a Dragons error to put the result beyond doubt as Wests Tigers recorded a thrilling come-from-behind 24-15 victory in the end.
2. 2012, Wests Tigers 17 def. Cronulla Sharks 16
Were it not for the season-ending injury that then young gun James Tedesco suffered in the opening 20 minutes, Wests Tigers’ Golden Point thriller over the Cronulla Sharks may well have taken the top spot in this list. Opening the scoring early through Beau Ryan, Wests Tigers would pick up where they left off in season 2011 to lead the Sharks 12-4 at the break, before a Todd Carney-inspired comeback gave Cronulla a 16-12 lead. With five minutes to play, Wests Tigers chanced their arm on last tackle, with Ryan grubbering through for himself to level the match at 16-all.
After Carney’s conversion from in front was charged down in Golden Point, up stepped Marshall, who drilled the winning shot from 35m out to send the Leichhardt Oval faithful into raptures.
1. 2015, Wests Tigers 19 def. Gold Coast Titans 18
Cometh the moment, cometh the Iceman. Pat Richards’ final season with Wests Tigers in 2015 had many memorable moments but perhaps not more so than the winger’s last second heroics against the Gold Coast Titans. After a back-and-forth contest against the never-say-die Titans, Wests Tigers forced an error in the final set of the game to have a chance at stealing victory. With the ball passed back to Luke Brooks for the winning shot, he then spun the ball back across the ruck to Richards, who had drifted in from his wing.
The 2005 Grand Final hero then drilled a high, arching field goal from 30m out as the siren sounded to break the Gold Coast hearts and give new Coach Jason Taylor the perfect start to his coaching career at the joint-venture.