With halfback Jack Littlejohn playing an inspired hand against his one of his former clubs, the Wests Tigers have snapped a five-game losing streak in the Intrust Super Premiershp NSW with an upset 18-12 win over the disappointing Newtown Jets in their match at Henson Park this afternoon.
The loss will now see the Jets drop out of the top eight for now thanks to a bye moving the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles ahead of Newtown on the competition table.
The Jets were not helped when originally-named five-eighth Luke Jurd had to withdraw in the pre-game warm-up, forcing Leigh Higgins to start as his replacement and forward Saulala Houma to come in on the interchange bench.
After a tight scoreless opening 10 minutes, Newtown shrugged off their disrupted game-day preparation when half Penani Manumalealii popped up a nice short ball for fullback Matt Evans to slice through the Tigers defence from close range for the opening try. Evans converted his own try for an early 6-0 lead.
In a similar vein to their previous week’s performance against the Sea Eagles, the Jets had further chances in the first half – forwards Jack Williams and returning Cronulla NRL forward Sam Tagataese both came up short while Jeremy Latimore almost score from an audacious chip and chase – before the Tigers struck back.
On the back of receiving a penalty at their own end in the 25th minute for a mid-air tackle on winger Ryland Jacobs whilst taking a bomb, the Tigers worked play downfield from the penalty set for fullback Watson Heleta to dart through four Newtown defenders on a 20 metre solo run to score the visitors’ first try.
Veiru Mapesone converted to lock scores up at six points apiece – a scoreline that held until half-time despite both sides having some half chances during the last 15 minutes of the first stanza.
Evans’ day – and Newtown’s – took a turn for the worse in the first set of six tackles of the second half when the Jets fullback came reeling out of a tackle with what appeared to be a badly-broken left forearm.
Evans was taken to hospital for treatment while the Jets backline had to be further reshuffled – with Higgins switching to fullback and Jordan Galloway brought in to five-eighth from the bench for the rest of the match.
Both sides both then engaged in the arm wrestle through the middle with chances at a premium until the 52nd minute when a solid tackle by Newtown winger Edrick Lee on opposite number Luke Garner forced a turnover.
Three tackles later on a right side spread, desperate second phase play through the hands saw Intrust Super Premiership NSW debutant centre Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga muscle over for the Jets’ second try. Manumalealii missed the conversion and Newtown led 10-6.
On the back of a repeat set from the restart and an ensuing offside penalty, Aufaga-Toomaga landed the 20 metre penalty goal to extend the Jets’ lead to 12-6.
The Tigers - and Littlejohn - then came back hard.
On the back of a repeat set of their own with 20 minutes left, a clever Littlejohn inside pass sent bench forward Jackson Williams over untouched to score. Mapesone added the extras to again lock the game up at 12-all.
Then – after Newtown centre Jesse Ramien lost the ball after making a break inside his own half in the 66th minute – the Tigers then worked field position for Littlejohn to weave more magic with 10 minutes left.
A clever grubber in behind the static Newtown defence on the last tackle of the repeat set saw skipper Nathan Milone win the race to the ball for the try next to the posts. Mapesone converted and the Tigers were leading for the first time at 18-12.
It was a lead that the Tigers held on to in a frantic final five minutes.
The best Newtown chance came with five minutes left when Garner made the break down the left and linked up with Lee on his inside.
The former Canberra winger looked certain to score when he crossed the goal line – only for Heleta to incredibly come across in cover and hold Lee up in goal when the winger tried to ground the ball for a try.
Then three tackles later on the opposite flank, James Tuitahi was held up by Littlejohn and bench prop Junior Tatola when reaching out for the goal line in what was the Jets’ last opportunity to pull a result out of the fire.
Aufaga-Toomaga was penalised for passing off the ground in the last-gasp Newtown attack on halfway in the final minute – allowing the Tigers to run down the clock to score their first win since their first ISP win since beating Newcastle 42-26 at Leichhardt Oval back in Round 9 on April 29.
The undermanned Jets now face a huge task to get back into the top eight when they play competition leaders Wyong Roos at Central Coast Stadium, Gosford in the Fox Sports game next Saturday at 12:40pm.
The Tigers travel to Cessnock Sports Ground next Saturday to attempt to score a second win for the season over the Knights at 4:30pm.
Wests Tigers 18 (W Heleta, N Milone, J Williams tries; V Mapesone 3 goals) def Newtown Jets 12 (M Evans, B Aufaga-Toomaga tries; M Evans 1 goal, B Aufaga-Toomaga goals)