They might have started slow, but Wests Tigers found their groove eventually in Round 1 to finish too strong for the St. George-Illawarra Dragons on Sunday night — running out 24-14 winners in the end.
Led by the mercurial Benji Marshall, Michael Maguire's side showed their resilience and composure at times throughout a back-and-forth match, before the class of Marshall came through late with a try and an assist to put his side in front.
David Nofoaluma then rounded out a super night for the outside back with his second try seconds from full-time to ensure a 10-point win for the visitors.
FORWARD PACK LEADING THE WAY
Against a Dragons pack containing experienced internationals in Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell and James Graham, it was the next generation for Wests Tigers who stood up most on Sunday night — amassing a whopping 1958 metres on the ground en route to victory. That was over 600 metres more than the Dragons and more than any other team in Round 1, such was their dominance, with several impressive individual efforts as part of an inspiring overall team performance.
In just 41 minutes, Josh Aloiai was superb in his starting role at prop with 15 carries for 187 metres while fellow front row starter Alex Twal got through 15 runs for 161 metres along with three tackle breaks and 36 tackles.
Post-Match: Josh Aloiai
Thomas Mikaele (120 metres from 12 carries) and Zane Musgrove (69 metres in 26 minutes) kept that dominance up front going when the substitutions started to fall, and ensured Wests Tigers walked away from the contest with the two points.
MARSHALL MAGIC IN NEW-LOOK HALVES DUO
With Moses Mbye unavailable and Luke Brooks succumbing to calf injury the day before kickoff, much responsibility was thrust on to the shoulders of Benji Marshall and his new-look halves partner in Josh Reynolds — a combination that didn't spend any time together in the halves during pre-season.
His side forced in to early onslaught in defence, Marshall eventually took control of the game for Wests Tigers and showed his class with a number of deft touches — scoring a try and setting up two others with clever kicks in behind the line.
Taking over the goal-kicking with Mbye sidelined, Marshall slotted four goals from five attempts and added 81 running metres on the ground while his live-wire halves partner in Reynolds racked up 112 metres from his 19 carries.
Reynolds' energy was pivotal as always throughout the match — forcing a key error on Ben Hunt late in the first half to put his side on the attack — and didn't back down from an ongoing tussle with Tariq Sims throughout the contest.
It was his energy to a loose ball on last tackle that earned his side a repeat set with two minutes to go — allowing Nofoaluma to score his second try of the night in the very tackle to put the game to bed once and for all.
2020 Match Highlights: Rd.1, Dragons vs. Wests Tigers
BACK FIVE FIGHT BACK TO FINISH STRONG
It was a far from ideal start for the Wests Tigers backs, with a missed tackle and a defensive mistake seeing the Dragons awarded a penalty try inside the opening two minutes of the game, before Corey Thompson's rare error in a kick return allowed Zac Lomax the simplest of four-pointers midway through the first half.
But after those momentary errors it was business as usual for the back five who held their nerve against the Dragons attack to keep out any more tries and start to assert themselves offensively with their tough carries and creativity.
New recruit Adam Doueihi looked lively on the left edge with six tackle breaks from his 10 carries, while his wing partner Robert Jennings (139 metres from 13 runs) was desperately unlucky not to score on two occasions.
On the right edge, Joey Leilua was held up over the line and narrowly missed grounding a Marshall grubber to score his first try for the club while Nofoaluma's two tries, 196 metres and one-on-one steal proved the difference in the end.
While it might not have been the most memorable night to start off with for Thompson, the diminutive number one did what he always does — kept on fighting — and finished the night with 159 metres and a team high nine tackle breaks to go with his five all-important last-ditch tackles.