As has become the norm so far in 2018, it was another game that right down to the wire for Ivan Cleary's side, but this time they weren't able to land the killer blow in the final minute — instead seeing the Knights snatch victory with a 78th minute try.
The sellout crowd at Scully Park were treated to one of the more engrossing games of the season as Wests Tigers and Newcastle traded blows and the lead, before eventually settling on a winning the final minute.
And as you'd expect from a such a thrilling affair, there were some fascinating numbers to come out of it...
It was a stark contrast to the 26-0 scoreline Wests Tigers had amassed last week when they hit the half-time sheds at Scully Park trailing by 10 points after Mitchell Pearce scored right before half-time. The 10-point gap is the biggest deficit Wests Tigers have faced this season, having previously only trailed by six points against the Parramatta Eels in Round 4 and the Melbourne Storm in Round 5. As we soon saw, however, just as they'd managed to come back in those two games, a similar comeback was on the cards...
2018 Match Highlights: Rd.7, Wests Tigers vs. Knights
It took just six minutes for Wests Tigers to incredibly take back in the lead in the second half, with three tries in five minutes putting the home side up by eight points. Off the back of Luke Brooks' clever passing and Benji Marshall's dominant kicking game, the hosts scored through Michael Chee Kam, Kevin Naiqama and Corey Thompson to lead the Knights' 18-10 and looked destined to go on with a commanding win. However, some negative footy and crucial errors gave the Knights a chance to stay in the game, and eventually put themselves in a position to walk away with the two competition points...
Already without co-captains Russell Packer (knee), Josh Reynolds (shoulder) and Chris Lawrence (hamstring) for the game, Wests Tigers were forced to handle the loss of three key players to concussion in Saturday's game with Jacob Liddle, Benji Marshall and Elijah Taylor all forced to the sidelines. Marshall would return for the second half and spark the home side's resurgence, while Liddle would only come back for one set before picking up a knock on his sternum. Taylor didn't pass the concussion protocols and wouldn't return for the night, and their absence came at the exact moments that Newcastle controlled the game and scored points. With Marshall and Taylor on the field, Wests Tigers led the game 18-0.
For just the second time this season, Wests Tigers didn't win the possession battle on the night, with the two sides splitting the ball completely 50-50. Despite Cleary's side producing their highest completion rate of the season with 91% and only contributing three errors all match, the Knights too were able to raise their game and compete with the home side — hanging in the contest before eventually stealing the win. And it's worth noting too an interesting correlation between possession and success so far this season, with the graph below pointing out that the two losses this year have come in the two lowest possession rates.
One of the biggest improvements needed next week is tackle completion, with the Knights showing their attacking class to chalk up 52 tackle breaks on Wests Tigers. The 52 tackles missed by the hosts are the most Ivan Cleary's side have missed in a game all season, while only breaking 15 tackles themselves — well down on the side's season average of 28. Definitely something to improve in next weekend!
Just a little extra note to finish with here, and it ties back in interestingly to the wins/losses produced by the side's this season. Wests Tigers have done a great job this season at winning the play-the-ball in attack and defence, but they were unable to show quite the same dominance against Newcastle's forwards on Saturday night — chalking up their second lowest play-the-ball speed all year. Nathan Brown's side dominated in the ruck with only six penalties against, and their roll on allowed the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce the ability to make things happen on the edges as a result.