It was a strong and determined performance from Wests Tigers on Thursday night as they downed the North Queensland Cowboys 20-12 at Leichhardt Oval.
All in all, it was a scoreline that could have read much better for the home side had they made the most of their attacking dominance in the first half, but the two points still feel just as good all the same.
While it was an improved team showing that led to the win, we've highlighted some key numbers and individual performances in this week's By the Numbers, thanks to Income Tax Professionals...
After conceding 26 points last week in a dismal loss to the New Zealand Warriors and over 70 in their past three games, question marks were starting to be raised about the Wests Tigers defence that had seemed so good in the opening month of the year. Well, that defence returned tonight with the Cowboys only tries coming off a deflected kick from Johnathan Thurston and a deflected kick from Benji Marshall — hardly the most well-crafted attacking opportunities! In total, the hosts conceded just 12 points on the night, making it the sixth time this year that Wests Tigers have conceded six points or less in a game. The team are averaging just 15.1 points against per game, a number that sits them inside the top four teams in the competition this year and will continue to hold them in good stead if they can continue it this year.
Discipline and getting the basics right was the focus for Wests Tigers before the game, and the way the side closed out the match on Thursday showed that they did just that. With the game somehow locked at 12-12 despite the home side's apparent attacking dominance, Wests Tigers completed at 91% in the second half with 20 of 22 completions and just one penalty conceded in defence. On the other hand, the Cowboys imploded somewhat as they tried to chase the game — completing at just 56% with 10 of 18 completions that all but handed the match to Wests Tigers as they eventually made the most of their chances in attack.
While the defence was much improved on the night, there's still a little cause for concern with how many tackles Wests Tigers are missing lately with another 48 going down on Thursday night. That number has crept up in the last month, and it's certainly something that the side will need to work on as they push their claims for credibility in 2018. With the next three games against big forward packs in the Panthers, Bulldogs and Roosters, those missed tackles could home to roost (excuse the pun) if not corrected soon.
Thurston has won it all in rugby league, but one thing he will never be able to say is that he won a game at Leichhardt Oval — or even a game against Wests Tigers in Sydney, for that matter (barring the sides meet in the finals). As of Thursday night, Thurston's record at Leichhardt stands at 0-4 while his record against Wests Tigers in Sydney stands at 0-14 going all the way back to his 2003 days with the Bulldogs. And while we're at it, the Cowboys record against Wests Tigers isn't much better with the boys from Townsville not recording a win at Leichhardt since 2000 — a game in which Coach Paul Green was playing!
One final positive note to finish on and it was the way in which Wests Tigers back five, and seven if we want to include the halves, dominated the match with their running game. The changes that have been made across the backline have been well-documented this season, but Coach Cleary certainly got the balance right tonight with a number of crucial carries putting the home side on the front foot. In total, the back seven players amassed just shy of 1000 running metres on the night (957m in total), with an average of over 130 metres per player. Of the back seven, only Esan Marsters (96m) finished under triple figures, with Mahe Fonua leading the way with his incredible 230 metres gained from 22 runs. Every player in back seven also broke a tackle with the group combining for 22 tackle breaks as a whole.