Wests Tigers have held off the Canberra Raiders 22-20 in an enthralling contest today at GIO Stadium to keep their finals hopes alive for season 2018.
2018 Match Highlights: Rd.22, Raiders vs. Wests Tigers
Leading 16-0 early in the match off the back of a sin bin to Joey Leilua, Wests Tigers led from start to finish in the game but were made to work for every minute of it — Canberra storming back in to the contest in the second half before Wests Tigers held their nerve to emerge with a two-point win.
The win sees Wests Tigers move to within two points of the Brisbane Broncos with three games remaining in the regular season ahead of next week's clash with the St. George-Illawarra Dragons.
Looking to build on his Man of the Match performance from last week, Luke Brooks got his side off to the perfect start when his linebreak put the visitors on the attack. From the ensuing set, a quick tap from Kevin Naiqama caught Leilua offside with the centre marched to the sin bin for 10 minutes.
Despite a voracious crowd against them, Wests Tigers would quickly make the most of their man advantage with Moses Mbye combining with Benji Marshall to send Malakai Watene-Zelezniak over.
In his 100th game, Mbye would then back up his earlier play with a scintillating individual try — beating several defenders before dummying his way past Nick Cotric to score untouched under the posts.
Esan Marsters had no problems converting to make it 10-0 in favour of Wests Tigers, before a third try in seven minutes to Michael Chee Kam had the visitors well in control of their opponents with a 16-0 lead.
With Leilua back on the field, Canberra's league-leading attack eventually crossed through Joseph Tapine after a review from the Bunker with Josh Papalii also crashing over in the first half for Canberra.
However, Wests Tigers were also sticking their passes in attack, and a try in the corner to David Nofoaluma capped off how well the visitors were playing with the ball in hand — a sweeping right edge move and no-look cut-out pass from Mbye sending the winger over for a crucial four-pointer out wide.
Marsters was unable to convert windy conditions, and potentially left more points on the field when he broke through the Raiders' left edge defence just before half time, only to be bundled in to touch by Cotric in a good ball-and-all tackle that would ensure the score remained at 20-10 as both teams hit the sheds.
Having already broken the line six times in the opening 40 minutes, Wests Tigers would again look threatening to start the second half with Elijah Taylor, Robbie Farah and Luke Garner all breaking clear of the line inside the first few minutes. However, the Raiders would show great resilience on their own goal line to deny the visitors from extending their lead further with Cotric making a number of key tackles.
Eventually it would be the Raiders who hit back with Leilua making up for his earlier indiscretion as he burrowed over out wide, cutting Wests Tigers lead to 22-14 with 20 minutes still remaining in the game.
Tapine's second try with 15 minutes remaining had the home fans on their edge of their seats, and a brilliant sideline conversion from Sam Williams ensured it would be another grandstand finish.
Nofoaluma looked to have put the game to bed for Wests Tigers when he touched down with five minutes to go — only for the touch judge to correct rule that the final pass from Marsters had travelled forward.
It would be a tense final few minutes for Ivan Cleary's side as they were forced to defend gallantly, but they did enough to hold on and end their recent hoodoo against the Green Machine at GIO Stadium.
Wests Tigers 22 (Watene-Zelezniak, Mbye, Chee Kam, Nofoaluma tries; Marsters 3/4 goals) def. Canberra Raiders 20 (Tapine 2, Papalii, Leilua tries; Williams 2/4 goals) at GIO Stadium
Match: Wests Tigers v Dragons
Round 23 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval