25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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A brave Wests Tigers side, who played the entire second half without stars James Tedesco and Aaron Woods, have eventually fallen to the Sharks 22-16 in a scrappy affair at Leichhardt Oval in front of over 13,000 fans.
The clash at Leichhardt Oval began with a thud when Ava Seumanufagai whacked Matt Prior on the first tackle of the game. The entertainment did not stop there, however, with David Nofoaluma claiming a try after just two minutes only to have been ruled by the Bunker to have dropped the ball attempting to ground it. Wests had opened the game in quite energetic fashion and posted the first points of the night courtesy of a Mitchell Moses penalty goal in the 6th minute. In saying this, their energy in attack did not transfer to their effort in defence with Tony Williams strolling through in his first game of the season for quite an easy four-pointer in the 8th minute.
After such a promising start, the Tigers' performance was quickly turning into a nightmare when James Tedesco played the ball to no-one, gifting the Sharks a full set ten metres out - and they made the home side pay. A slick set play saw Sosaia Feki cross out wide to extend his side's lead to eight. It was beginning to look ominous with Wade Graham almost taking advantage of a James Maloney break minutes later, only to drop the ball with a possible try looming. Yet, the home crowd suddenly found themselves injected into the game after a controversial call from the Bunker denied Tedesco in the 22nd minute with Paul Gallen ruled to have been interfered by Aaron Woods in the play-the-ball.
The Tigers did not have to wait long to gain revenge when Moses Suli used his 106-kilogram frame to bust through several tackles and score in the 30th minute. A late penalty goal saw the Tigers head into the sheds up 14-10 but it was not all smiles for the home side with the news that Woods (groin) and Tedesco (HIA) would both not return in the second forty.
The Tigers started the second forty in concerning fashion for coach Ivan Cleary, making two errors in the opening five minutes. Cronulla almost took advantage - twice, only for a couple of brilliant try-saving plays from bench forward Josh Aloaia. Without their star fullback the Tigers appeared a tad directionless in attack with halves Moses and Luke Brooks both struggling to take full control. As a result, when a penalty presented itself, Moses booted his side to a six-point lead.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, only minutes later Tedesco's absence was made even more profound after the home side let the ball bounce on the last, leading to a try to a flying Valentine Holmes. Suddenly both sides were locked up at 16 points apiece, yet neither side could gain ascendancy with errors constantly relieving pressure. Yet, some smart football from Chad Townsend saw the Cronulla five-eighth chip the ball and regather to score in the 68th minute after acknowledging that fill-in fullback Kevin Naiqama was not in position.
The Tigers had a couple of chances to force Golden Point courtesy of two Andrew Fifita errors, yet nothing came of it with the home side making mistakes of their own and, despite their bravery, falling to a disappointing 22-16 loss.
Although neither side will play next week due to the Representative Round, both teams will be looking for improvement as the Sharks head to Jubilee Oval to take on the Dragons on Friday Night in Round 10, while the Tigers take on the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium later that night.
Wests Tigers 16 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 22
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
Halftime Score: Wests Tigers 14 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 10
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Chad Townsend
2 points - Paul Gallen
1 points - Moses Suli
WESTS TIGERS (16)
Tries: Kevin Naiqama, Moses Suli
Conversions: Mitchell Moses (1/2)
Penalty Goals: Mitchell Moses (3/3)
CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (22)
Tries: Tony Williams, Sosaia Feki, Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend
Conversions: James Maloney (3/4)