It was a tough afternoon at the office for Wests Tigers on Sunday, with Ivan Cleary's side falling just short of the Parramatta Eels in their enthralling Round 8 clash.
In a match that saw a number of lead changes throughout the 80 minutes, it was the home side who came out on top to hand Wests Tigers their third defeat of the season and second loss in succession.
What can we take from the defeat? Here's this week's key numbers, thanks to Income Tax Professionals...
It's remarkable to think that Wests Tigers heaviest defeat of the season so far came on Sunday, but that's the case with another two-point loss. The margin remains the most Cleary's side have lost by all season — equalling a controversial 9-7 loss to Brisbane in Round 3 and a 22-20 defeat to Newcastle in Round 7. All three games have been there for the taking for Wests Tigers and it's not unthinkable that this side could be 8-0 had they managed to close out these three games as well as some others already this season. Still, the close defeat still sees Wests Tigers inside the top eight in fifth position, while Manu Ma'u's late try saw the visitors surrender the NRL's best defensive record — now third just behind the Dragons and Storm.
An area which they have been so good this season, it was the running game of Wests Tigers that struggled most on Sunday with just 1310 metres as a team — the lowest number the side have recorded this year. No forward made more than 100 metres, with close to half the team's running metres coming entirely from the back five. Parramatta did a good job at keeping Wests Tigers in their own half for the majority of the game, while a combination of errors, penalties and lack of possession saw the visitors unable to get any real ascendency in the match. There was a feeling in the second half that if Cleary's side could string a few quality sets together in attack and defence than they would run over the top of the Eels, but they couldn't quite do that — leaving their attack and big men to do it tough in the middle of the field.
On to the positives now and it's worth mentioning a little streak that Esan Marsters has going — one that is sure to be ruined now that we've mentioned it! The talented centre was again a standout in a losing side, setting up the first try and maintaining a threat on the right all day, but it was his goal-kicking that again impressed with four goals from his four attempts. That now makes it 15 goals in a row for Marsters following his miss back against the Broncos in Round 3, with seven from seven against the Sea Eagles and four from four last week against the Knights. Marsters is kicking at a 90.91% conversion rate this year — the second highest in the NRL — and only trails injured sharp-shooter Nathan Cleary in this regard, which is impressive given he's played five more games and has only taken over the full-time kicking recently. For a player who has never kicked before in his career, it's certainly been a remarkable start from Marsters!
On his club debut too, it's worth giving a special mention here to Mahe Fonua who tried all day on the left edge to get his side going. Fonua led all Wests Tigers players with 136 metres on the ground, and while it wasn't quite the 200+ he was averaging in the Intrust Super Premiership heading in to his debut, it was still an impressive showing — particularly given 61 of his 136 metres came post-contact. Certainly impressive stuff for an outside back! Fonua ended the match with team highs in runs and metres, while also chalking up four offloads, three tackle breaks, a try assist and a linebreak assist, giving Coach Cleary a good headache next week in terms of selection with Malakai Watene-Zelezniak also in the running.