It was a night full of tricks and treats as Wests Tigers began Magic Round with a bang against the Panthers on Friday — scoring four tries in six minutes to record a dominant 30-4 victory.
After a slow start last week, Wests Tigers blew Penrith out of the water inside the opening 15 minutes of the match with five tries to none — handling business throughout the rest of the game to emerge with a comfortable win in the end.
On a night that no doubt attracted plenty of headlines with the return of Benji Marshall, Origin talk and more, here's what stood out for Wests Tigers in the win...
Backline reshuffle pays dividends
Michael Maguire's back five might have looked the same on paper against the Penrith Panthers but by the time they came to run out, the sight was a different one for Wests Tigers fans. Esan Marsters had shifted from right to left with Corey Thompson going in the other direction, while both Mahe Fonua and Robert Jennings were at centre and wing — having played the previous position the week prior.
Of the back five, only Moses Mbye at fullback played in the same position as the week before but the proof was certainly in the pudding for Maguire and Wests Tigers as his team recorded their fastest ever start in history to lead 24-0 early on.
Five tries in 17 minutes!
Combined, the back five finished with five tries, four linebreaks, 20 tackle breaks and 595 metres while conceding just one try against — leaving Maguire to answer the question as to whether he'll maintain with the positional changes next week.
While we'll leave that up to him, it's worth noting the reasons behind it all, with an argument to be made that each player is in a position they are comfortable with.
Robert Jennings (left wing) scored 19 tries in 21 games for South Sydney in that position last year. Corey Thompson featured heavily as a right winger for Wests Tigers last year, while Fonua did the same at centre (where he's scored 10 tries in 27 games). Even Esan Marsters might not have played much left centre, but he did feature there for New Zealand during the end-of-season tour under Maguire.
Should the same back five be called up on this Thursday against the Melbourne Storm, it'll certainly be worth noting whether these changes are here to stay!
Ryan Matterson once again leaves his mark
Somewhat of an underrated off-season signing for Wests Tigers, Ryan Matterson continues to make every post a winner in 2019 with another impressive performance in his new colours. The Premiership Winner had filled in at five-eighth last week but is clearly more familiar and comfortable running in the back row and it showed again tonight with his power and creativity both coming to the fore.
It was his good support that led to Mbye's opening try after four minutes, before he then showed his playmaking side with a well-worked move to the right that saw him dart a 20m cut-out on to the chest of Thompson, who scored untouched.
With Michael Chee Kam brought in to the action after 31 minutes, Matterson moved to the middle and played the rest of the game in a roving lock role — finishing with 155 metres from his game-high 18 carries along with 38 tackles (0 missed).
Having lost Chris Lawrence early in the pre-season to injury, Wests Tigers needed the former Roosters forward to step up for them in season 2019 and he's certainly done that so far this year — no wonder there's Origin talk around for the big man!
Post-Match: Ryan Matterson
Thomas Mikaele continues to evolve
Young forward Thomas Mikaele made his NRL debut at the start of the year and played the opening three games before dropping out of the side in Round 4.
Returning in Round 5, his involvement was relatively low over the following fortnight before rapidly improving his game against the Titans in Tamworth — from which the Keebra Park junior has started to take his game to a new level.
With just a slight increase in minutes (averaging 30.3 minutes since Round 7), Mikaele has completely upped his metres and defence and really added some extra punch off the interchange bench for Maguire's side. Having cracked the ton in metres gained for the first time against the Titans, Mikaele produced another good effort tonight with 101 metres from 11 carries as well as 14 tackles.
There's still some rawness to Mikaele's game — as shown by a couple of key handling errors tonight — but at just 21 years of age, there's also plenty of upside should he continue to grow under the club's coaching staff as he has done so far.
Wests Tigers once again show how to bounce back
In an ideal world a team would never have to bounce back but on several occasions this year Wests Tigers have had to, and each time they've done what's required.
A disappointing game against the Bulldogs in Round 3 was met with a much improved performance against the Panthers in Round 4 that really should have yielded points, but the result was there the following week against the Broncos.
Farah reflects after starring in Wests Tigers' big win
Off the back of a dismal showing against the Eels in Round 6, there was a run of 30 unanswered points against the Titans to get the chocolates in Round 7.
A poor second half against the Roosters in Round 8?
The best start to a game in club history against the Panthers in Round 9.
Resilience is a word that Maguire has mentioned several times already this year, and this Wests Tigers side have shown plenty of that already in 2019.
The other key word he's mentioned a lot is consistency, and Wests Tigers fans and Members alike will be hoping to see that this week as they make arguably the toughest trip in the game — an away trip to AAMI Park to face the Storm.