Australia don’t lose rugby league Tests often – but when they do, it’s usually when there has been a sudden loss of talent or an oversupply, with too many good players being squeezed into the side to please too many people.
The Wests Tigers have overcome a week of off-field dramas to keep their finals hopes alive with a thrilling 22-20 win over the Raiders on Sunday afternoon at GIO Stadium.
The two-point victory sees the Tigers move just two points behind the eighth-placed Broncos with games against the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs to come in the next three weeks.
Wests had struggled recently against the Raiders, having conceded 46 points or more in their past four defeats to the Green Machine.
However, they started off Sunday afternoon’s contest on fire, racing out to an early 16-0 lead after Joseph Leilua was sin-binned early.
The first try saw Malakai Watene-Zelezniak stroll over untouched on Leilua’s right edge before a spectacular run by recruit Moses Mbye gave the Tigers their second of the afternoon.
Canberra may have the best attack in the competition, but their defence has always been an issue and they were quickly falling apart with just 12 men on the field.
A short ball from Luke Brooks saw Michael Chee-Kam slice over and the Tigers held a comfortable 16-point lead after just as many minutes.
Once Leilua returned, however, the Raiders quickly reduced the deficit off the back of a string of penalties. Joseph Tapine bagged his first try of the afternoon in the 29th minute when he barged over.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to respond though, with David Nofoaluma soaring over out wide off a lovely long ball from Mbye.
Errors and ill-discipline cost Ivan Cleary’s men late in the first half and saw the Raiders gifted numerous sets on the Tigers’ line.
And eventually they took advantage when Josh Papalii crashed over in the 37th minute.
With a 20-10 lead at the break, the Tigers were expected to be too desperate in the second half.
Despite threatening to extend their lead early off the back of some Robbie Farah brilliance, they couldn’t find their way over the line, instead opting for an early penalty goal.
It would ultimately be the difference, with two tries to Leilua and Tapine seeing the Raiders fall short by just two points.