A converted try from interchange forward Willie Mataka with eight minutes remaining was just enough for Mounties to scramble an unimpressive 20-18 win over a gallant Wests Tigers outfit in their Intrust Super Premiership match at Aubrey Keech Reserve.
In an up-tempo first 15 minutes with few errors and even fewer stoppages in play, it appeared to be business as usual for the home side.
In the eighth minute on the back of four early repeat sets inside the Tigers’ 20-metre zone, powerful Mounties centre Brent Naden bounced away from two defenders to get an offload away in traffic for winger Eddie Aiono to score the first try of the match and take a 6-nil lead with Jordan Turner’s conversion.
After the Tigers gave away a cheap penalty from the restart set, Mounties worked into field position for fullback Zac Santo to stab a grubber kick in behind the Tigers defence for comeback winger Kato Ottio to score his first try for the season and a 10-nil lead.
The Tigers then finally got their hands on the football in the 20th minute to work a simple inside out play for makeshift backrower Ryan Garner to charge through on the burst through poor goal-line defence from Mounties to get the visitors on the board with Veiru Mapesone’s conversion.
Both sides then had opportunities for the rest of the half without converting those chances into points – with Mounties interchange hooker Glen Buttriss being held up in-goal in the shadows of half-time the best chance – to leave the score at 10-6 in Mounties’ favour at the break.
Mounties then came out and started the second half in poor fashion, making four errors in their first five sets in possession.
The Tigers punished the home side for their turnovers when a neat Mapesone grubber kick in-goal six minutes into the second-half, which saw Tigers co-captain Nathan Milone get to the ball first to score. Mapesone converted to give the Tigers a 12-10 lead.
After looking lethargic in possession while continuing to make errors, Santo sparked Mounties into life with a superb 40-metre burst up the middle of the field eight minutes later.
On the next tackle, a quick shift through the hands down the let saw Naden beat the back-pedalling defence to score wide out and regain the lead for the home side at 14-12.
However, the patched-up Tigers outfit – with players called up from the Wests Magpies’ Ron Massey Cup team due to injuries and other requirements up the line in NRL – stayed with Mounties and were rewarded with 14 minutes left.
After yet another Mounties error and follow up repeat set, the Tigers kept the ball alive on the last tackle through no less than five sets of hands – with Mapesone sending an inside pass to giant interchange prop Junior Tatola to score. Mapesone converted to regain the lead for the Tigers at 16-14.
Mounties then worked their way forward to earn a repeat set themselves with eight minutes to play. From a scrum win, hooker Kurt Baptiste sent an inside pass to Mataka to crash over under the posts. Turner converted from in front and Mounties led again at 20-18.
The Tigers had late chances in the closing stages after the butter-fingered Mounties turned the ball over one last time with under two minutes left – Mounties only completed at nine of 17 sets for 52% in the second half.
From their last attack, Tigers five-eighth Bayley Sironen was caught in possession by the scrambling Mounties defence on the last tackle to secure the two competition points for a relieved Mulga outfit.
Mounties will need to improve sharply to take on competition leaders Wyong in their next match next Saturday, while the Tigers will have the first of their byes for the season next weekend before they play Illawarra RLFC at Wollongong in their next match.