Wests Tigers Intrust Super Premiership side have gone down 20-14 to the defending premiers Illawarra in a tight encounter today at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Despite losing halfback Jordan Rankin to NRL commitments, David Heath’s side welcomed back a number of key personnel for Saturday’s clash — Joel Edwards and Kyle Lovett returning to the second row with Junior Tatola and JJ Felise up front.
Illawarra would get the match off to the perfect start for the visitors when Josh Kerr powered his way up the middle in the opening set before linking up with promising youngster Jai Field, who had no problems finishing off the move with a four-pointer.
Shaun Nona made no mistake with the conversion to give Illawarra a 6-0 lead.
Wests Tigers didn’t let the slow start affect them, however, and soon hit back through Nathan Milone after he was found in space out wide off a lovely ball from Justin Hunt.
Hunt was unable to convert from out wide, leaving it at 6-4 after 10 minutes of play.
After coming up short in a number of attacking raids in the first half, Wests Tigers would eventually take the lead in the 25th minute through Jayden Wheelhouse, who finished off an excellent team try following some good work in the build-up from Esan Marsters.
Hunt was again unsuccessful in his sideline conversion, leaving the hosts’ lead at 8-6.
Illawarra looked to hit back late in the half as they attack Wests Tigers’ end of the field, but some strong goal-line defence from Luke Garner and then Hunt ensured the home side’s lead stayed in tact as they took an 8-6 advantage into the sheds at half-time.
Wests Tigers big men were certainly leaving their impact on the game with a number of tough carries and hits, and it was a determined run from interchange forward Wesley Lolo that extended the hosts’ lead as he crashed over under the posts after 47 minutes.
Hunt nailed his first conversion of the day to extend Wests Tigers’ lead to 14-6.
The defending premiers from 2016, Illawarra would hit back in the 55th minute when a wonderful late pass from promising back-rower Luciano Leilua found Field in space for his second try of the day, with the five-eighth running around to improve the angle.
Nona made no mistake with the conversion to cut Wests Tigers lead to 14-12.
With Illawarra full of running, an error from JJ Felise coming out from his end gave the visitors another attacking set on Wests Tigers’ line, and they would use it to take the lead, with Izaac Thompson diving over in the corner off a good short-side play.
Nona’s strong sideline conversion gave Illawarra an 18-14 lead after 65 minutes.
After a penalty goal from Nona extended the visitors’ lead to 20-14, Wests Tigers would have a chance to hit back in the final period of the match after Thompson was sent to the sin-bin for the remainder of the match following a coming together between both teams.
However, after an exhausting second half, the home side were unable to find the final try needed to level the match, as Illawarra held on for a six-point victory in the end.
Illawarra 20 (Field 2, Thompson tries; Nona 4/5 goals) def. Wests Tigers 14 (Milone, Wheelhouse, Lolo tries; Hunt 1/3 goals) at Campbelltown Stadium.