By Lars Roy at Leichhardt Oval
The Wests Tigers stole a nail-biting 34-32 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs by scoring two converted tries in a thrilling final five minutes.
In a match that had plenty of attacking flair, it didn’t take long for the home side to open the scoring through Wesley Lolo after only three minutes in.
A well-weighted cross-field kick by Josh Drinkwater found the right-edged back-rower on the full, who only had to fall over the try line.
Drinkwater converted the try from close range to give the Tigers the perfect start.
The visitors were rewarded through gradual pressure on the Tigers’ try line, eventually scoring in their third consecutive set through Tyrone Phillips, who crossed in the corner. Chase Stanley was unsuccessful from the sideline with the Bulldogs trailing 6-4 after 13 minutes.
A well-worked backline shift extended the gap to eight points in the 21st minute after a Sitaleki Akauola try and Josh Drinkwater converting.
The intensity of the game began to rise and came to a head with several heated exchanges. Joel Luani and Jason Schirnack had a number of altercations within the space of minutes, which eventually lead to Luani being sent from the field. With the Tigers down a key middle defender, the Bulldogs’ big men – namely Antonio Kaufusi and Danny Fualalo – exploited the extra space behind the ruck for quicker play-the-balls.
The Bulldogs capitalised on their gained momentum when Shaun Lane crossed for his first try in the 32nd minute, courtesy of a Lloyd Perrett short ball. The vocal Leichhardt crowd managed to distract Chase Stanley who narrowly missed the close conversion. Canterbury almost scored on the next set but Phillips was unable to ground the ball, denying him a first-half double. Despite the Bulldogs’ late surge in the first half, the Tigers went into the break with a 12-8.lead
The Tigers scored first points in the second half after a costly penalty on last tackle conceded by Perrett put them in good field position. It was Josh Drinkwater who crossed in the 43rd minute proving very elusive close to the line. He converted his own try extending the Tigers lead to 10 points.
Shortly afterwards, Delouise Hoeter pounced on a grubber kick from Penani Manumalealii who provided an instant spark off the bench. Drinkwater missed the sideline conversion leaving the score at 22-8 after 52 minutes.
However, the next 20 minutes were all the Bulldogs in scoring 24 unanswered points with tries to Corey Thompson, Shaun Lane, Danny Fualalo and Tyrone Phillips. With the Tigers trailing 32-22 with only five minutes remaining, Wesley Lolo crossed for his second try of the match by running a great line off Kyle Lovett, from short distance. Drinkwater converted the try closing the Bulldogs’ lead to only four points.
The following set saw the Tigers lift in enthusiasm and score through Chance Pene in the 75th minute. Pene had Sitaleki Akauola to thank who gifted a terrific offload to the young centre to score the match-winning try. The good day with the boot continued for Drinkwater nailing his most important kick of the day from adjacent to the uprights to for the Tigers to clinch a dramatic 34-32 victory.
WESTS TIGERS 34 (W Lolo 2, S Akauvola, C Peni, D Hoeter, J Drinkwater tries; Drinkwater 5 goals) bt CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 32 (S Lane 2, T Phillips 2, C Thompson, D Fualalo tries; C Stanley 4 goals)