It might not have been the prettiest, but a tough and gritty performance from Wests Tigers was enough to see them fight back and down the Bulldogs.
Trailing 10-4 at half-time, it was the inclusion of Josh Reynolds in the second half that sparked the comeback for Wests Tigers — running in two unanswered tries to eventually win by four points.
The result sees Ivan Cleary's side record their seventh win of the year in the opening 12 weeks, the same number as they managed in all of the 2017 season and their best start to a season in history.
While it might not have been the most glamorous performance, there was still no shortage of impressive numbers to come from the win, which we'll highlight as always thanks to Income Tax Professionals...
Perhaps the biggest key in Wests Tigers ability to come back in the contest throughout the second half was their ability to keep the ball alive with second phase play, chalking up 23 offloads for the game. That's their second highest total all season and just one off the most recorded by the team this season — 24 times in the Round 2 win over the Melbourne Storm. It's interesting to note that after offloading 53 times in the opening two matches, Wests Tigers did not record more than 13 offloads in any game up until Sunday's — perhaps showing how much the team relies on second phase play to get their attacking going. The outside backs were instrumental in making this happen with Mahe Fonua (7), David Nofoaluma (3), Corey Thompson (2) and Esan Marsters (2) all proving a handful with the ball in hand, while halfback Luke Brooks also added a handy three offloads — helping Wests Tigers to their seventh victory of season 2018. Wests Tigers have not lost a game this season when they have offloaded 15 or more times, with a 3-0 record there.
While it was great to see the offload back for Wests Tigers, what will no doubt please Ivan Cleary more is the low number of missed tackles with just 26 for the game. That number is the second lowest Wests Tigers have recorded this season, with 21 against the Roosters back in Round 1 the best in that regard. Some special mentions: Ben Matulino and Chris Lawrence combined for 54 tackles without missing one between them, while six players also missed just one tackle — Matt Eisenhuth the standout in this regard with 42 tackles and 1 missed in his 57 minutes off the match. What's even more remarkable with this achievement for Wests Tigers is the fact that they were made to do a lot more defending than their opponents (with over 100 more tackles in the first half alone) but still finished with a very strong 89% tackle success rate.
He scored the match-levelling try back in Round 5 and again Chris Lawrence popped up with a crucial four-pointer on Sunday — this time collecting a grubber from Tuimoala Lolohea despite heavy defensive traffic around him. That try was his 79th in Wests Tigers colours, which levels him once again with Benji Marshall as the club's all time top try-scorer. The pair started the season on 76 tries apiece and have added three tries to their respective tallies this season, making them the club's equal second highest try-scorers for the year. However, they do trail Corey Thompson a fair bit in this regard, who leads the way with six.
2018 Match Highlights: Rd.12, Wests Tigers vs. Bulldogs
The two points were pleasing, but what wasn't was the poor handling by Wests Tigers throughout the match — completing at just 71% for the match. That number is well below their season average of 78% and is also the lowest number that the side has completed at and won a game this year. The 11 errors and 11 penalties conceded by the team certainly didn't help in this regard, and it's no doubt something that Cleary will want to address quick smart ahead of their clash with the Sydney Roosters this Sunday.
Reynolds loving new chapter after returning in win
Still, we've got to finish on a positive note here and again it was the defence that stood out with just 10 points conceded for the game. That takes the team to second in the NRL in terms of points allowed, and is incredibly the fifth time this year the side have allowed five points or less — joining Rounds 1,2,3 and 5 in this regard. Given the side had just one game all of last year with 10 points or less against them (the Round 21 win over the Gold Coast), it's clear to see how far Wests Tigers have come with their defence this year.