By Michelle Boon
The Wests Tigers dug deep to outlast the Cronulla Sharks 30-28 in a see-sawing contest at Remondis Stadium on Saturday.
Sharks’ fullback Nathan Gardner opened the scoring , crossing out wide after they created an overlap down the right hand edge in the 4th minute and he used it to stroll across untouched. Winger Nathan Stapleton converted to lead 6-0.
Ten minutes later the Tigers’ fired back through fullback Daniel Abou-Sleiman after they worked their way up field for him to weave through traffic from close range and plunge over. Halfback Michael Stevens converted to level the scores at 6-all.
Soon after Tigers’ winger Marika Koroibete scored under the posts after taking an intercept from inside his own half then scooting down the left hand wing and out sprinting the cover to the try line. Stevens added the extras to put them into the lead 12-6.
With 20 minutes in the first half remaining Abou-Sleiman posted his double, again crossing out wide in similar fashion to his first try and Stevens’ conversion took them further ahead 18-6.
Koroibete followed his lead two minutes later, also notching his double after taking advantage of an overlap 40m out from the Sharks’ line and brushing past two defenders to go over out wide. Stevens couldn’t convert and the score was 22-6.
With 13 minutes to go in the half Stapleton went over out wide after showing superb strength to break out of two tackles 10m out from the Tigers’ line and take a defender over with him as he reached out to plant the ball down and his conversion, with no further scoring, saw the match poised at 22-12 at half time.
The perfect autumn conditions seemed to have taken their toll as the second half took plenty of time to start cranking up and 17 minutes elapsed before Tigers’ centre Setefano Taukafa scored out wide after they regathered a bomb in the Sharks’ attacking zone on the last tackle before shifting it to the right for Taukafa to plunge over in traffic. Stevens didn’t convert and they went further ahead 26-12.
The Sharks hit back five minutes later when centre Mahe Fonua scored in the right hand corner after Koroibete’s attempts to clean up a bouncing kick in the in-goal went awry and he was on hand to touch down on the loose ball. Stapleton added the extras to take the score to 26-18.
With 15 minutes remaining Koroibete repaid his debt and recorded his treble for the afternoon after busting through the defence deep inside his own half then streaked away up the left hand touchline before fending off Gardner 15m out to give him clear passage to the line. Stevens’ attempt was unsuccessful but they were still in front 30-18.
Seven minutes later Fonua also notched his double, crossing out wide after the Sharks kept the ball alive in the Tigers’ 10m zone with good support play allowing Fonua to eventually find a gap to sneak through. Stapleton didn’t convert but it kept the match alive at 30-22.
The Sharks showed they weren’t done and dusted yet as with three minutes to go Gardner scored out wide cleaning up a loose ball close to the Tigers’ line and Stapleton’s conversion made for a tense final few minutes at 30-28, but the Tigers showed great resolve to control the play and run out winners.
The Tigers will be at home this round when they host the Knights at Campbelltown on Saturday while the Sharks will head up the coast on Sunday to take on the Roos.
Wests Tigers 30 (M Koroibete 3, D Abou Sleiman 2, S Taukafa tries; M Stevens 3 goals) def. Cronulla Sharks 28 (M Fonua 2, N Gardner 2, N Stapleton tries; N Stapleton 4 goals) at Remondis Stadium.