They say all good things must come to an end and, good or not, the same thing applies to every rugby league year when Round 26 rolls around on the calendar.
Sometimes there’s everything to play for with a finals berth on the line; other times it’s simply the chance to end on a winning note and bid farewell to the departing players.
And while finals football is the goal, there’s still something nice about Round 26 games — and we’ve seen some pretty special season finales at Wests Tigers over the years.
So in this week’s Top Five, we count down our favourites, thanks to Share Care.
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5. 2009 — Wests Tigers 34 def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12
One team was out of finals contention while the other was the competition favourites playing to wrap up the Minor Premiership — all the signs for Wests Tigers’ Round 26 clash against the Bulldogs pointed to a win for the boys from Belmore. However, at their free-flowing best, Wests Tigers could knock off any opponent on their day and that was certainly the case this time around as Benji Marshall engineered a stunning 22-point thrashing over the Bulldogs, who ended up finishing second on the ladder with the defeat. Then NRL CEO David Gallop was forced to drive from the SFS at half-time (with Wests Tigers leading 16-0 at the break) to Kograh to present the Dragons instead with the trophy. The match also doubled as the 100th NRL (and final Wests Tigers game) for Danny Galea, who would move to the Raiders in 2010.
4. 2014 — Wests Tigers 26 def. Cronulla Sharks 10
After a disappointing end to the 2014 season that saw Wests Tigers slip from finals contention to near the bottom of the ladder, a final-round clash against the Cronulla Sharks hardly made for inspiring reading on paper — the Sharks embroiled in the ASADA scandal that saw a slew of their key players suspended. With driving rain making for wet conditions before kickoff, casual fans would have been forgiven for assuming a dull contest was to follow, but both sides proved that wrong with the Sharks stunning Wests Tigers in the opening 40 minutes to lead 10-6 at the break. However, it didn’t take long for the home side to give Leichhardt Oval the end-of-year celebration it deserved in the second half, with youngsters Luke Brooks, Blake Austin and Mitchell Moses combining in the second half to run in 22-unanswered points for a 26-10 win.
3. 2008 — Wests Tigers 28 def. Gold Coast Titans 12
With legendary fullback Brett Hodgson lining up for one final game in Wests Tigers colours before ending his career in England, Tim Sheens’ men were determined to end the 2008 season on a high following a largely underwhelming season. And while the Titans might have been far from their best on the day, Hodgson most certainly was — delivering a Man of the Match performance as his side ran in five tries to two, moving Wests Tigers from 12th to 10th on the ladder as the 2008 season came to a close.
2. 2011 — Wests Tigers 30 def. Cronulla Sharks 22
Far from a dead rubber, Wests Tigers made the tough trip to Shark Park to close out the 2011 regular season needing to win to ensure a top four finish. After bowing out of the finals in heartbreaking fashion the year before, Tim Sheens’ side were desperate to book a home final with a win on the night, but would need to negotiate a tough Sharks side celebrating the 200th NRL game of captain Paul Gallen. Both teams traded tries early on, with the game hanging in the balance at 26-22 late in the contest. However, a superb individual performance from hooker Robbie Farah ensured the visitors would escape unscathed, with his third try moments from the end wrapping up a 30-22 victory and a top four finish for the third time in the Club’s history and second year in a row.
1. 2006 — Wests Tigers 52 def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
But if we’re looking for the best performances to close out a regular season, we must go back to 2006 when Wests Tigers smacked the hapless Rabbitohs by 34 points at Leichhardt Oval in front of a 18,000-strong crowd. Bidding farewell to a number of Club legends and Premiership winners in John Skandalis, Shane Elford, Anthony Laffranchi and Scott Prince, Wests Tigers dominated the visitors early for a 30-0 half-time lead, before going on with the job in the second half to emerge with a huge win. The match is perhaps remembered most for the final minute of the game as Skandalis (who had been substituted off with a standing ovation) was brought back on to take a shot at penalty goal from 35m out. The front-rower struck it sweetly and almost thought it was in, only for the officials to wave the goal away. To this day, he still swears he made the shot — who knows if he’s telling the truth.