‘Completely different’: Wests Tigers flip the script in stunning scenes, beat Parramatta Eels

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If we’ve learned anything from the Wests Tigers’ 17-16 Easter Monday victory over the Parramatta Eels, this is not the wooden spooners the NRL is used to.

Mired in scandal and conflict, the team have delivered little more than mediocrity since winning the 2005 premiership.

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In the past 19 years, the Tigers have made the finals twice — a prelim in 2010 and semi in 2011, and they haven’t made it back since.

It’s now been 12 seasons since they’ve tasted finals footy — the last two claiming the wooden spoon and barely looking like firing a shot.

But three matches into the 2024 season — the Tigers had a bye in round 1 — the Benji Marshall-coached unit already look like a different beast than the NRL has been used to.

Tipped once again to anchor the ladder, what the NRL saw on Easter Monday was a different side than the NRL has become used to.

The Tigers win marks the first time since round 3, 2020 that the Tigers have had more wins than losses, claiming back-to-back wins to go 2-1 for the season.

The match went right down to the wire after an Eels penalty goal locked things up at 16-all with six minutes remaining.

The Tigers then marched down the field, playing the territory game, with halfback Aiden Sezer nailing an admittedly sloppy field goal to take the lead with under a minute left.

The drama wasn’t over however, with the Eels being handed a penalty after Isaiah Papali’i was called off-side by referee Liam Kennedy.

But without regular goalkicker Mitchell Moses, Eels skipper Clint Gutherson shanked his attempt from nearly 40m out as the Tigers celebrated a tough win.

While the final moments of the match will of course grab the headlines, the Tigers showed how different they are in the first half.

The Eels dominated 56 per cent of the possession in the first half, most of it in the Tigers red zone — including a run of around 30 tackles in a row against the Eels on the attack — but the visitors defence stood up.

In his post-match press conference, Marshall was asked if they would have won that game in 2023.

“I don’t care about last year,” Marshall said. “This is now. It doesn’t matter, last year is last year. We’ve got a completely different roster with a lot of different players. We’ve brought in a lot of youth, our leaders are doing a great job.”

Captain Api Koroisau praised his side’s defence.

“If our defence wasn’t that good today, I don’t think we would have won,” Koroisau said.

“At the same time, we were pretty disappointed with our attack and really put ourselves under pressure.

“We put so much work into it (our defence) in the pre-season. To see it come into game days it’s a great sign. But as I said, I don’t want to be defending like that for the rest of the year so we should just attack better.”

Speaking on NRL 360, NRL great Cooper Cronk said it was built on defence.

“I thought the defence was the key part,” Cronk said.

“If they didn’t have that defence, which they haven’t had in a period of long time, they don’t win that game. Multiple sets on their tryline, Parramatta would normally score a few points, but they were resilient and turned them away.”

The panel also paid tribute to young half Lachie Galvin, who had two try assists and a line break — although he was also sin binned for a hip drop tackle and potentially faces a stint on the sidelines.

Social media were liking what they saw.

The Tiger Takes Twitter account tweeted: “One of the great Tigers wins! Unbelievable effort – couldn’t be prouder of this team.”

It later added: “If we’ve ever deserved some luck at the end of a game – it was today. Unbelievable win! One of my proudest days as a Tigers fan. It’s been a long hard road but we’ve turned a corner as a club and I couldn’t be prouder of this resilient team.”

Broadcaster Stephen McIvor said: “How can u not love the @WestsTigers defence at the moment!!”

Bunyip Newspaper journalist Jem Nash wrote: “The Wests Tigers are in the 8. What is footy.”

Eels fan The Northern Eel posted: “Well done @WestsTigers. All heart and thoroughly deserved. This was a real Western Sydney fight, this is Rugby league. Good luck for the season.”

Another fan tweeted: “Fantastic win. Defence was very solid. Back to back against good sides. Well done boys. Imagine what we could do if we didn’t make all those silly mistakes! Only use 16 players today too!”

Another commented: “Brilliant game of football. Wests defence has been unbelievable.”

Another posted: “Tigers defending about 100 straight tackles in their own 20. May take it out of them but this is a completely different side to years gone by.”

Eels coach Brad Arthur on the other hand criticised his players for “chasing the soft win”.

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve built our game on being tough and rolling the sleeves up, I don’t know if we wanted to do that as much as they did today,” Arthur said.

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