It was a game of two halves at the Campbelltown Sports Stadium as Wests Tigers scored six unanswered first half tries before shipping four in the second forty as North Queensland Cowboys mounted a fightback.
Moses Mbye was the star of the show, scoring one and kicking six goals as the hosts held on for an important win in arguably the game of the season so far.
Story of the Match
The two sides went into the game separated only on goal difference, but Jason Taumaolo’s knock-on in the first minute gave the Tigers brilliant field position.
The hosts attacked down the middle on all six tackles and, on the final play, Zane Musgrove forced his way over. The two points were kicked and the Wests led by six with just two minutes on the clock.
The Tigers took the lead before eventually losing to the Canberra Raiders in their last game, so their visitors imagined the game was still there to be won, but it just wasn’t.
Kyle Phelps sent the restart deep and Josh Reynolds, who got an assist last time out, failed to catch the ball to give the Cowboys their first opportunity which they were unable to take as Luke Garner refused to be beaten on the try line.
And he determination was rewarded further almost immediately as Reynolds attacked the other end. Reynolds ran deep into the attacking third before feeding Adam Doueihi.
Doueihi delayed the pass until the Cowboys’ defence committed before finding Joseph Leilua who was never going to be stopped, battering his way over the whitewash to give the hosts a two-score lead. The extras were converted again and the Tigers were in dreamland with less than ten minutes played - and they weren’t finished yet.
Mbye took advantage of more poor defensive positioning from the visitors before playing the ball inside to Luke Brooks who raced clear to score in successive matches and the Tigers’ third try of the match.
The Cowboys’ spirited attacking efforts were applaudable, but their defending was not. The Tigers focused their pressure down the middle once more and they were in yet again, Josh Aloiai going over for their fourth.
The Wests got tired of attacking the centre so decided to switch it up to the left side where Robert Jennings beat Esan Marsters to finish off a superb, flowing passing move to score the pick of the bunch in the first forty.
Mbye was having a stormer with the boot, converted five from five to that point and got in on the act when he chased down a loose ball in the try zone to record the Tigers’ sixth try of the half. He did, however, finally miss a kick so the score remained 34-0 at the break.
Harsh words will have been said in the Cowboys’ dressing room during the break as the away side came out flared up for the second forty and they came within inches of scoring when Connelly Lemelu’s left foot drifted onto the sideline as he grounded the ball in the corner.
The visitors did, however, finally score when Scott Drinkwater intercepted a long cross-field pass from Reynolds before sprinting seventy yards unopposed to score the easiest try of his career before converting.
Just minutes later, they were in again. A high punt on the last saw bodies fly forwards and Kyle Feldt caught and grounded to give the away side a slim piece of hope with the scores at 34-10.
Given the one-sided nature of the first half, any suggestion of a Cowboys comeback would have been laughed away, but when Feldt scored his second in quick succession, Tigers fans will have been biting their nails back home as the scores moved to 34-16.
But, no sooner had they got themselves back in with a shout, the Cowboys conceded a needless penalty and Mbye – who was impeded off the ball as he chased a punt downfield – kicked two points to steady the Tigers’ ship.
Ben Hampton thought he’d reduced the deficit further for North Queensland, but the video ref showed his foot in touch and the Cowboys saw a try chalked off for the second time in the match.
That didn’t deter the away side, though, and Isan Marsters crossed in the corner with four minutes remaining to reduce the arrears at 34-20.
That, however, was the end of the Cowboys’ scoring and what would have been a sensational comeback was not to be, but their second half performance should see them take confidence into their next match.
What's next for both sides?
The Tigers head to Canterbury Bulldogs next weekend and will travel there in good spirits seen as their hosts have only won one game so far this season – before they face Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks on Sunday morning. The Tigers will expect to win the contest and build on what has been a decent start to the campaign.
The Cowboys host Newcastle Knights next time out and they will be desperate to win it having now lost three matches in a row. Their first half defensive horror show in this one needs to be learned from, and learned from fast, as their upcoming run of fixtures sees them play sides above them in all of their next six matches.