After a last start defeat, it didn't take long for Wests Tigers to find their way back in to the winners circle with a 30-20 victory over Parramatta on Easter Monday.
Having fought back from an early deficit, Ivan Cleary's side showed their potency in attack and ferocity in defence to develop a comfortable lead over the Eels in front of a healthy crowd at ANZ Stadium.
They might have switched off late in the piece and allowed the visitors to add some respectability to the scoreboard, but there's no doubting the confidence growing within Wests Tigers this year.
Cleary's men have now played last year's top four teams and lost just once (which came in a controversial Golden Point game) and with players still to return, will certainly fancy their chances at improving further.
There was no shortage of sparkling performances and special numbers to come from the memorable Easter Monday clash — let's take a look at the most notable ones, thanks to Income Tax Professionals.
Through the opening three weeks of the year, defence was the hallmark of Wests Tigers with just 25 points conceded — the fewest in the NRL. But it didn't take long for fans at ANZ Stadium to realise that it would be the attack that featured most prominently in the Easter Monday game with six tries scored in the opening hour of the game. Corey Thompson continued his blistering start to the year with a double, while the right edge of Benji Marshall, Robbie Rochow and Esan Marsters looked threatening every time they touched the ball — as did young gun Jacob Liddle in his return from injury. In total, the 30 points scored doubled the team's points for in 2018 and while they might still statistically have the second worst attack this year, there's no doubting the signs and ability there for that number to quickly improve.
Perhaps the biggest key in the breakthrough in points was completions, with Wests Tigers taking a 20-6 lead in to the half-time sheds off the back of a 95% first half completion rate. Cleary's men failed to complete just one set in the opening 40 minutes — an error in the play-the-ball from Ben Matulino just one metre out from the Eels line — and that ability to control field position and their opponents through sure handling allowed the attacking flair of Wests Tigers to flourish. The team's completion percentage did drop off in the second half, but still finished at 88% for the game which will no doubt have pleased Ivan Cleary.
While there were no shortage of individual standouts in the game, we've picked out Esan Marsters here who again continues to be a handful for opposition defences with his tough running and footwork in attack. The centre registered another five offloads in Monday's game to take his total for the year to 17 — putting him equal first in the league this year for offloads (equal with Martin Taupau from Manly). Five was also the number of offloads that Corey Thompson and Tuimoala Lolohea each managed in the win — a statistic that was perhaps surprisingly topped by Kevin Naiqama with six.
While we're on individual performances, it's worth noting a number of special firsts that happened in Monday's win over the Parramatta Eels. Promising young forward Matt Eisenhuth scored his first NRL try, Robbie Rochow crossed for his first try in Wests Tigers colours, while Jacob Liddle played his first game since Round 19 last year where he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. All three players were superb in the win over Parramatta and will no doubt have a big part to play throughout the remainder of 2018.
We couldn't end this week's By the Numbers without mentioning a special milestone that occurred for Coach Ivan Cleary in the win — in charge of the team for exactly one year. On Monday, April 3, Cleary was unveiled as Head Coach of Wests Tigers for the next three years in hope of turning around the roster and on-field performances. It's only been 365 days, but early signs on those two fronts are looking good, and we're certainly excited to see how the team continues to flourish under Cleary going forward!
Happy anniversary, boss!