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The fourteenth man was well and truly in action at Leichhardt Oval on Thursday night as the Tigers sent the Cowboys home lamenting the chance to finally build some momentum into their season.
The visitors’ win against the Panthers last weekend and the glimpses of form and combinations that finally started to appear would have meant so much more if followed up with a solid win against the Tigers.
Paul Green will be disappointed with a performance that, despite the relative closeness of the contest, saw the Tigers appear more enthusiastic and energetic across the park.
It shocks me that we use such language in this day and age. With the level of professionalism in the game, how is it possible that one team looks more committed and desperate than another with so much at stake and competition points on the line?
It is the nature of athletic pursuits I guess; mental application, preparation and the immeasurable sense of team culture and mindset that all play out in the tiny moments where centimetres and seconds make the difference.
These moments are consistently won by the Tigers when they play at their spiritual home of Leichhardt Oval. The fans, players and opposition all realise the black and gold (and white since the merger) are on sacred ground and even a moderate ANZ crowd, such as the 13,000 in attendance on Thursday, has Leichhardt bursting at the seams.
Whenever a team embraces their traditional home, one can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about the game. There has been an obvious attempt by the NRL to reconnect with fans in emphasising rivalries and when built into the cauldron of a local ground, the history of the game is reignited in a new form for the modern fan.
It is a no-brainer that we would all like to watch more football that way yet sad that the commercial realities make it only fleetingly possible. Perhaps we have the balance right and that is what makes it special? Or maybe we should all head back to the suburbs more often.
For the Tigers, the extra Leichhardt-leg they grew will keep them well entrenched in the top eight and the Cowboys will hobble home with a rickety set of crutches. They will once again attempt to regroup ahead of their clash with the Rabbitohs this coming Saturday.
The Panthers did the business against the Knights in the early Friday clash. The chocolate soldiers led all of the way and despite injuries and some questions over their form, move temporarily into second place on the ladder.
I missed much of that game as I was out at ANZ anticipating the bottom-of-the-table clash between the Bulldogs and the Eels.
Irrespective of ladder position, these teams don’t do friendly. It is an historic rivalry that is at its best when both clubs are riding high but even when things look as grim as they do for both right now, there is still much at stake.
The game started with a flurry of scoring and a cricket score seemed likely after tries to Brett Morris, Clint Gutherson and Bevan French saw the Eels build a 12-8 lead. Just prior to the break, Moses Mbye slotted a penalty goal and the Bulldogs crept within two.
The most stunning feature of the first half was the appalling right side defence of the Dogs as both Parramatta tries were constructed down that alley and a third destroyed with a poor pass. The Morris boys were as solid as a rock on the left yet had little to do, as the Eels aimed their entire attack at the right edge with good success.
Sadly, both teams became clinical (some might say negative) and completions became the order of the day in the second half. Unfortunately, the contest became representative of two teams lingering at the bottom of the table, with both scared to lose and devoid of the courage to grasp the win.
A penalty goal to Moses Mbye levelled things up after 60-five minutes and the Bulldogs finally had some luck with an Adam Elliott try in the 73rd after clumsy and inept work from the Parramatta backs gifted the Bulldogs’ backrower a try.
A 78th-minute penalty goal sealed the deal for the Dogs and they will take the win with glee after such a frustrating month. Parramatta will rue their lost chances and lament their inability to capitalise on the line breaks they made throughout the game.
It wasn’t Torvill and Dean and potentially a little more Cheech and Chong, yet for the victors it was a step in the right direction. For the losers, it mires them to the bottom of the table and makes the road to the semi-finals almost impossible.