Hopelessly clutching to just one win from the opening six rounds, Ben Gardiner took over a distraught North Sydney Bears side languishing at the bottom of the table.
Not only did Gardiner give the Bears a new lease on life, he led North Sydney on a fairytale Cinderella march to the finals in earning the VB NSW Cup Assistant Coach of the Year.
In just his fifth match at the helm, Gardiner’s side trailed 22-0 against Wests Tigers, and it seemed there was little in store for the rest of the season.
But the Bears roared back, declining a score-levelling penalty opting to score the match-winning try and claim a miraculous 26-22 come-back victory.
The win ignited a furious North Sydney rally for the rest of the season as they stormed into the finals, while it was the beginning of the end of Wests Tigers who had started their season so promisingly but waned away from solidifying a top-eight spot – leading to a subsequent coaching overhaul in the offseason.
North Sydney overcame a 22-0 deficit to stun Wests Tigers with an outstanding 26-22 come-back victory.
Trailing by two points with four minutes remaining, the Bears declined a penalty in front of the posts to level the scores, opting instead to score the match-winning try.
Cody Walker showed why he is destined for the NRL soon with a sensational man-of-the-match performance for the Bears, setting up two tries and making multiple line breaks in the second half.
Things looked bleak for the Bears trailing 22-4 midway through the second half as they offered little suggestion of injecting themselves into the contest.
However, the Bears roared back to score three tries in 12 minutes to seize the momentum and cut Wests Tigers’ lead to 22-20 with ten minutes remaining.
It’s the Bears’ third win out of their past five matches since new-coach Ben Gardiner took the reins. In the first six rounds of the season, the Bears had won only one contest before Gardiner stepped in to give the team a new lease of life.
It was a familiar story for Wests Tigers who gave up another significant lead for the second week in a row. They led 14-0 before losing 26-14 against Wyong Roos last week at Campbelltown Stadium.
Dominating 60 per cent of possession in the first half, Wests Tigers were in complete control of the contest. Led by prop Jack Buchanan in a powerful display, the forwards rolled through the middle of the field for Wests Tigers to score the opening four tries.
Nathan Milone scored in the fourth minute after planting a Josh Drinkwater grubber kick just centimetres from the dead ball line. Winger John Sila then finished off a swift backline movement to cross before Drinkwater nailed a 40-20 kick for Wests Tigers to score back-to-back tries to Brenden Santi and himself.
The Bears managed to salvage one try before halftime to trail 22-4. Although the Bears were more focused and disciplined in the second half, they had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. But Cody Walker exploded for the Bears, setting up two tries with a perfect cut out pass to Bernard Gregorius and a brilliant grubber for his halves partner Darren Nicholls to score.
Walker’s late-game heroics cut the deficit to 22-20 before winger Dane Chang crashed over to seal the fairy tale victory.
North Sydney Bears 26 (D Chang, B Gregorius, D Nicholls, K Sione, I Simone tries; Nicholls 3 goals) bt Wests Tigers 22 (N Milone, J Sila, B Santi, J Drinkwater tries; J Drinkwater 3 goals)