Wests Tigers defeat Cowboys in Cairns trial match
Wests Tigers have kicked off season 2018 with a convincing first-up win over the North Queensland Cowboys, running out 30-16 victors in their trial match in Cairns.
It was a promising hit-out for both sides, with respective coaches Ivan Cleary and Paul Green sure to take plenty away from the match heading in to their second trials next weekend.
Incredibly, though, the biggest talking point of the night was pre-kickoff, with a thunderstorm sweeping through Cairns and not only taking out power for the venue, but the entire Cairns district.
Play was delayed indefinitely as a healthy crowd at Barlow Park watched on stunned, before play was eventually resumed 45 minutes after the scheduled start of the match.
Once play did get underway, it was the visitors who started the better with Corey Thompson going over out wide after a good late offload saw Josh Reynolds and Robbie Rochow put the winger away.
Tuimoala Lolohea was unable to convert from the sideline, but he would have a much easier shot moments later as Malakai Watene-Zelezniak scooped up a loose pass to race 50m and score under the posts.
Leading 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, Wests Tigers looked to have extended their lead shortly after the break when Development squad forward Thomas Mikaele crashed over; however, Reynolds was surprisingly penalty for an obstruction that saw the youngster denied his first a four-pointer.
Eventually, it would be the Cowboys who crossed next right on the stroke of half-time, with Jonathan Thurston kicking through a Wests Tigers error before putting Coen Hess over the line.
Ethan Lowe incredibly missed the ensuing conversion, though, leaving the half-time score at 10-4.
With changes aplenty for both sides, it was a rampant start to the second half from Wests Tigers that blew the game wide open — starting with a debut try for Tyson Gamble with his first touch of the footy.
Taking on the line with his powerful frame, the former only rookie in Wests Tigers' 2018 squad showed great strength to touch down, with Esan Marsters unable to convert from out wide.
Less than five minutes had passed before Wests Tigers grabbed another try, this time a lovely short side play down the right putting new recruit Taane Milne over untouched. The Fijian international would miss the chance to convert his own try from the sideline, but it wouldn't stop the points for the visitors, with Thompson grabbing his second try shortly after with a solo effort cutting in from the fullback position.
Marsters would make amends for his earlier miss with a sharp conversion from out wide — taking Wests Tigers' lead out to 24-4 over the 2017 Grand Finalists with just one quarter remaining in the match.
Promising Cowboys youngster Jake Clifford would cut in to Wests Tigers' lead shortly after the break with a darting run through the line, converting his own effort to take the Cowboys within 14 points.
After a penalty went against young gun Sam McIntyre, winger Mahe Fonua was sent to the sin-bin for the final 10 minutes of the match for dissent as a tropical storm continued to pour over Barlow Park.
With the extra man advantage, John Asiata would grab a consolation try for the Cowboys in the waning moment that added further respectability to the scoreboard with the margin down to eight points.
However, somewhat deservingly after an impressive showing, it would be Wests Tigers who had the last laugh of the game with David Nofoaluma scooping up an error to crash over in the final minute.
With the likes of Benji Marshall, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Russell Packer, Alex Twal and Chris McQueen all not featuring in the match, Cleary will be hoping that tonight's result will lay a platform for what's to come in next week's trial against the Cronulla Sharks at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Wests Tigers 30 (Thompson 2, Watene-Zelezniak, Gamble, Milne, Nofoaluma tries; Lolohea 2/3, Marsters 1/2, Milne 0/1 goals) def. Cowboys 16 (Hess, Clifford, Asiata tries; Clifford 2/2, Lowe 0/1 goals)