It was a tense final 15 minutes for Wests Tigers on Sunday, but Ivan Cleary's side did enough to hang on for a crucial 22-20 victory over the Canberra Raiders.
After coming out of the blocks firing to lead 16-0 after 18 minutes, Wests Tigers were forced to defend their lead for the majority of the second half — holding on to a narrow two-point win that sees the side keep their finals hopes alive and move within two points of the eighth-placed Brisbane Broncos.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, it's shaping as a thrilling last few weeks of action — especially if Sunday's hoodoo-ending run over the Canberra Raiders is anything to go by!
It was a number that we reflected on last week and again it held true for 2018 — no team has managed to beat Wests Tigers twice in the same season. With the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs to come this year, the only team that would have had the chance to end that record was the Canberra Raiders, who handsomely beat Wests Tigers when they met earlier this year, but there was to be no more thrashings this time around. Ivan Cleary's side produced one of their best attacking halves of the year and followed it up with an equally determined defensive effort to hold out the highest-scoring attacking team in the competition, and deservedly walk away with their first win over the Green Machine since 2015.
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They might not be known for their attacking talent this year, but Wests Tigers showed on Sunday that they are more than capable of turning it on when they need to — racking up an incredible 10 linebreaks in the win. Only thanks to some stunning scrambling defence (from Nick Cotric in particular) and some missed execution from the visitors did those linebreaks not turn in to more points, but it was still certainly good to see a number of players in full flight with nine different players recording linebreaks to their name.
In somewhat of a statistical quirk this season, Wests Tigers have found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline when receiving 10 or more penalties in the game. In Round 9, they lost to the Warriors when receiving 11 penalties; they lost to the Panthers in Round 11 with 11 and they lost to the Roosters in Round 13 with 10. However, Sunday's game saw them buck that trend and win with 10 penalties received. Remarkably, the side has won all both games this season in which they received less than five penalties, winning with just two for them in Round 5 v Melbourne and three for them in Round 18 v the Dragons.
Mbye try named top play from Round 22
Given their recent success over Wests Tigers in their past few meetings, it was clear that Canberra were going to come with the mentality of giving their ball to their outside men as quickly as possible. In particular, the right edge of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana — who have racked up tries for fun in recent times against Wests Tigers. Yet while Leilua did eventually get across the line, Wests Tigers wingers and centres (for the most part) did a great job marking their respective players, despite being forced to do a lot of defensive work. Between the four of them, they accounted for 40 tackles, with Esan Marsters (12) and Kevin Naiqama (18) both seeing plenty of traffic run their way throughout the game. It'll certainly have pleased Ivan Cleary, however, seeing how well the duo handled the extra attention during the contest.
We couldn't leave this week without touching one last time on one of the more remarkable records in rugby league with Benji Marshall recording his 18th win against the Canberra Raiders from 19 matches. The five-eighth set up his side's opening try and had a number of key touches throughout the game to help steer the side home and ensure that his perfect record against the Raiders in Canberra (10 from 10) stayed in tact.