Needing to win to keep their finals hopes alive, Wests Tigers delivered in the best way possible on Sunday with a thrilling 20-16 win over St. George-Illawarra.
The result sees Wests Tigers narrow the gap to the top eight to just four points, while ending their own run of four straight defeats that seemingly had the side on course to end the year outside the finals.
And while there's still certainly a long way to go in that regard, Sunday's result certainly puts Ivan Cleary's side back on track to make a run in to September — a result built off several key numbers to note!
A special milestone for Wests Tigers fans young and old on Sunday with the joint-venture recording their 200th victory as a club since foundation in 2000. The milestone victory was a long time coming with four losses coupled with time off in the Representative Round as well as the Round 17 bye, but the team got there in the end to chalk up the special win. The result was also Wests Tigers first win at Kogarah since 2005 (remember what happened that year!) while it was also the first victory that had both Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall in action since June of 2013 — certainly a long time between drinks in that one!
Playing in his 100th game on Sunday, Luke Brooks not only snared the first try but continued to show his evolution as a halfback with a composed and controlled performance — particularly with his long and short kicking game. Pinning the Dragons deep on a number of occasions with his long kicks, it was perhaps his game close to the line that caused most trouble on the night with two forced dropouts in back-to-back sets leading to the penalty goal that would eventually win the game for Wests Tigers. In season 2018, Brooks has amassed 19 forced dropouts (almost more the number he's had in the past three years combined) and he'll no continue to be a pivotal figure for Cleary's side over the final third of the season if they are indeed set to make a run in to September footy for the first time since 2011.
Another player who's sliding under the radar somewhat is Esan Marsters, whose goal-kicking in tough conditions at Jubilee Oval helped Wests Tigers stay in front of the Dragons and close out the game with the lead in hand. The Kiwi international slotted all four of his shots at goal to extend his streak to 12 goals in a row — making the decision to keep the centre in charge of the conversions despite the arrival of sharp-shooter Moses Mbye a promising one for the team so far. Interestingly, Marsters has kicked at 100% now in eight of his last 11 games, with his season average now up to 79.55% in his first year kicking at goal.
After a season-high 18 errors in last fortnight's disappointing loss to the Gold Coast Titans, Wests Tigers bounced back well against the Dragons to halve that number and limit their error count to single digits — just the second time they've been able to do that since Round 11. As a result, Ivan Cleary's side were able to control the game well and dominate the possession with 58% in total for the match. That number is the second highest possession count the team has had all year, with 61% back in a Round 6 win over Manly.
2018 Match Highlights: Rd.18, Dragons vs. Wests Tigers
It was the home side who came in to the match with four forwards who had State of Origin credentials next to their name, but it was the visitors' big men who did the most damage on Sunday and paved the way for an upset victory. Wests Tigers racked up an incredible 572.4 metres post-contact against the Dragons on Sunday — the second highest number they have recorded in this regard all year — with Sauaso Sue leading the way in this regard, adding a remarkable 66 post-contact metres in limited minutes off the bench. Outside backs Esan Marsters (65m) and David Nofoaluma (61m) also shone in this area.
Perhaps the biggest positive of the day, however, was the discipline shown by Wests Tigers when they didn't have the ball — giving away just two penalties in their most disciplined performance of the year. Remarkably, Wests Tigers only had three penalties blown their way as well, with the 3-2 count easily the lowest penalty count either side has been a part of this year. Wests Tigers fans with good memories will note, though, that the three penalties for isn't the lowest they have received in a game this year; Cleary's men received just two against the Melbourne Storm in Round 5 but also still managed to win that game! It just goes to show that while getting penalties certainly helps, it isn't necessarily the sole way to win games!