Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
20 hours ago
The North Queensland Cowboys have all but run out of lives as their chances of making the NRL finals begin to fade, after a 54-10 thrashing at the hands of the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. In a match that many had thought would be a close encounter, it turned out to be a one-way try scoring feast that has left the Cowboys looking pedestrian at the business end of the season.
The match was marked by the return of superstar Benji Marshall and veteran Brett Hodgson, who was to play in his 200th match. No one could have predicted the score-line that has put doubts over the North Queensland Cowboys and their ability to win the 2007 premiership. However for the Wests Tigers it is nothing but hope as the return of key players and the exceptional form of some of their younger players has shown the world they are still within a chance this year. The win pushes the Rabbitohs out of the top 8 and puts the Tigers in 8th place.
The Wests Tigers opened the scoring after only 8 minutes, with a rusty yet solid Benji Marshall throwing a trademark pass to help send Taniela Tuiaki crashing over the line. Marshall was solid in his return from a shoulder injury, defending on the right wing for the match.
The Cowboys hit back 8 minutes later through Justin Smith, and it looked as if the match would be a close encounter between two sides trying to cement a spot in the Top 8. However, two tries from the Tigers (Morris, Hodgson) just before half time put the Cowboys under enormous pressure as the match slowly began to slip away.
The Cowboys needed to start the 2nd half well, and they all but did the opposite with the Wests Tigers crossing just 2 minutes into the 2nd half. It was all down hill from there as the Tigers amounted another 22 points to put the Cowboys down as the 2nd worst defensive team in the competition in terms of tries conceded.
Brett Hodgson marked his 200th game and return from injury with a good try, but appears to be under an injury cloud after suffering some form of injury to his leg early in the match. Hodgson battled on, limping for almost the entire match in a brave effort, before finally leaving the field with 15 minutes to go. The veteran fullback is confident the injury is just a slight cork to his leg.
Robbie Farah continued to show his brilliance with another fantastic performance, scoring a try and being an imperative force in assisting his side mount a 44 point thrashing.
As for the Cowboys, the future looks very dull. Thurston left the field late in the match with what appeared to be a shoulder problem. The furious halfback threw his headgear into the ground and sat with his head in his hands. The loss leaves the Cowboys sitting precariously on the edge of the Top 8. Their coffin still remains half open, but the side is slowly spiralling out of control, and quite possibly out of premiership contention. If they continue to miss 56 tackles a match, they'll be spending the finals in Townsville.
Wests Tigers (54) Tries: Taniela Tuiaki, John Morris, Brett Hodgson, Chris Heighington, Daniel Fitzhenry, Bronson Harrison (2), Robbie Farah, Ben Galea, Dene Halatau Goals: Brett Hodgson (3/4), Benji Marshall (3/5), Robbie Farah (1/1)
League Unlimited LIVE Commentary:
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the lovely Leichhardt Oval for this 9 vs 7 clash between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys. We have a big crowd trying to get into the ground- not as big as officials had hoped, but still a decent crowd.
The Wests Tigers will be looking to lift up another notch in their bid to push the Rabbitohs out of the top 8. There isn't a better time this year for superstars Benji Marshall and Brett Hodgson to return to the field. Will they add the spark the Tigers need to prevent 3 losses in a row?
The Cowboys are in a similar position- a loss will be their third in a row and will leave them teetering on the edge of the top 8. It doesn't help that representative halfback Johnathan Thurston will play in pain for the rest of the year, and it is imperative he plays well if the Cowboys want to win this game.
The cat thinks the return of Marshall and Hodgson will give the Tigers enough to get into the top 8, and win this game tonight.
Finally, the teams get onto the field and we're almost set for kickoff. I can only see about 5 Cowboys supporters in the crowd and they'll need to be loud to drown out the noise from the Tigers fans.
0 min: KICK OFF: Benji Marshall gets us underway with the kick off.
1 min: Looks like Benji Marshall will spend the night defending on the right hand wing. No doubt the Cowboys will run at him all night. A good first set by the Cowboys, showing some promise.
2 min: PENALTY- TIGERS: Cowboys penalised for offside. Tigers in good position early.
4 min: Tigers push the Cowboys to the limit early with a good set close to the line, albeit I think they ran from dummy half too much close from the line. Benji Marshall's kick is too big and the Cowboys will take the tap from the twenty.
6 min: A rusty Marshall throws a poor pass and gives the Cowboys possession thirty metres out. A chance here for the Cowboys.
7 min: PENALTY - TIGERS: Cowboys penalised for some stupidity in the ruck.
8 min: TRY Wests Tigers Benji Marshall throws a great pass to hit Liam Fulton square on the chest who manages to get the ball away to Tuiaki, scoring a few metres out from the sideline. He somehow manages to get through the three defenders. Conversion attempt by Brett Hodgson unsuccessful. Wests Tigers 4-0
11 min: PENALTY - TIGERS: Paul Bowman has been put on report for a dangerous spear tackle. Tigers get their third penalty in a row and get another 50 metres for free.
13 min: John Morris knocks on from a loose Cowboys pass. A let off for the Cowboys as they will get another set.
14 min: PENALTY - COWBOYS: Thurston puts a high ball up, defused by the Tigers and quickly tackled by Brenton Bowen. However, Hodgson has been penalised a few metres out for incorrectly playing the ball (walking off the mark). A harsh call by Hayne, but the Cowboys have their best shot of the night.
16 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys On the back of a dubious penalty, the Cowboys get their first points of the night from Justin Smith. Poor defence from the Tigers allowed Smith to get over the line. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston unsuccessful. 4 all
17 min: PENALTY - COWBOYS: Tigers give the Cowboys another piggyback penalty.
24 min: VIDEO REF- TIGERS: Great Kick by Marshall may have put Dean Collis in for a try. I think Collis has knocked on. Bowen looked like an amateur as he barely even attempted to go for the ball.
24 min: NO TRY- TIGERS: Collis deemed to have knocked on. The Cowboys are very lucky and need to lift their game.
25 min: Experiencing some technical difficulities at the moment on Leagueunlimited. The updates may appear slower than they should. We apologise for any inconveinience this may cause and are working to rectify the problem.
26 min: Cowboys have not made Benji Marshall make a tackle tonight which boggles the mind.
31 min: TRY Wests Tigers John Morris gets over the line and puts the Tigers in front. The Cowboys are starting to slow down and are slowly falling away from this game. Conversion attempt by Brett Hodgson successful. Wests Tigers 10-4
35 min: Webb throws the best forward pass of his career and almost puts Thurston in for a try. The Tigers are penalised for being offside about half a metre out. The Cowboys looked destined the score, but have the ball stripped by Fitzhenry from 3 metres out.
37 min: TRY Wests Tigers Brett Hodgson has scored from a good kick from Farah right under the black dot. Hodgson had time to comb his hair and clip his toe-nails before scoring that try. The Cowboys look flat, and just are not playing consistent enough. They look horrendous when the Tigers kick into their in-goal. Conversion attempt by Brett Hodgson successful. Wests Tigers 16-4
ERRORS: Wests Tigers: 6 North Queensland Cowboys: 4
39 min: Brenton Bowen drops the ball after a good set from the Cowboys. Its a positive sign they have broken the line, but they just are not capitalising on it.
40 min: ATTEMPTED PENALTY GOAL Wests Tigers Marshall misses a penalty goal just from half time. A worry for the Tigers with Hodgson unable to take the kick, and appears to be limping. Wests Tigers 16-4
Well despite the difficulties here, it has been an interesting game of football at Leichhardt Oval. The Cowboys are looking flat and they are not on their game at all. The Tigers aren't looking too spectacular either, but they are in front on the scoreboard and that is all that counts.
41 min: Hodgson still struggling with his left leg- not a good sign for the Tigers.
42 min: TRY Wests Tigers Galloway creates an opportunity after he busts through the line. Credit to him for making it look so easy. Heighington finishes off the good work and puts what could be one of the last nails in the Cowboys' coffin. Conversion attempt by Brett Hodgson successful. Wests Tigers 22-4
45 min: Hodgson looks like he won't be on the field for much longer. Credit to him for giving it his all, but I don't know how long he can go without succumbing to this injury.
46 min: TRY Wests Tigers It looks to be all over for the Cowboys. Farah creates an opportunity down the sideline and passes back on the inside to Fitzhenry who strolls across the line. A fantastic try. Conversion attempt by Benji Marshall successful. Wests Tigers 28-4
49 min: Cowboys have had the ball for one set this half.
50 min: Hodgson now looks like he is skipping across the field because of this injury. Why haven't the Tigers taken him off the field?
The Cowboys have missed 35 tackles in this match
54 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys And the Cowboys finally cross the line again. Bartlett crashes over the line with what looks to be a forward pass. Too little too late for the Cowboys in my opinion, but stranger things have happened. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. Wests Tigers 28-10
56 min: Game has started to turn a bit sloppy with some laziness starting to creep in.
59 min: VIDEO REF - TIGERS Possible try for the Tigers.
59 min: TRY Wests Tigers Its all over here with the Tigers putting the final nail in the coffin with Bronson Harrison crossing the line.. The Cowboys have had more possession and yet all you can remember from this game is the brilliance from the Tigers when they have had the ball. Conversion attempt by Benji Marshall unsuccessful. Wests Tigers 32-10
62 min: PENALTY - WESTS TIGERS: Faiumu has been penalised for a grapple tackle. Good to see after about 10 of them that one is penalised.
66 min: It is unbelievable and stupid that Hodgson has not been removed from the field. There is a fine line between brave and stupid, yet they are not making him get off the field. His knee is obviously troubling him and he is going to be doing more damage than good. I don't see the point in having him on the field when the Tigers are so far in front when it could aggravate the injury further.
67 min: A penalty to the Tigers and Hodgson finally comes off the field- visibly grimmacing in pain.
67 min: Apologies for the technical difficulties we are having at League Unlimited tonight. We are hoping the issue will be resolved soon.
67 min: Thurston appears to have hurt his shoulder- a terrible sign for the Cowboys.
70 min: Thurston comes off the field, throwing his headgear into the ground. He sits on the bench, and looks absolutely filthy. Could it be the end of the season for him?
72 min: TRY Wests Tigers Harrison gets a double, and this game is turning into a cricket score. From what I thought was going to be a close game has turned into a blow up. The Cowboys' finals hopes are fading. Conversion attempt by Benji Marshall successful. Wests Tigers 42-10
The Cowboys have missed 56 tackles. They are now rated the 2nd worst team in the comp. in terms of tries conceded
77 min: TRY Wests Tigers The Tigers crack the 50 and the 5 Cowboys fans I spotted earlier are nowhere to be seen. Its a great display by the Tigers and are playing magnificent football. The Cowboys are already back on the plane to Townsville. Conversion attempt by Robbie Farah successful. Wests Tigers 54-10
FULL TIME- The Tigers have absolutely thrashed the Cowboys here at Leichhardt Oval. Its good signs for the Tigers, but the Cowboys are looking as if their season could be over, especially if Thurston is out for the rest of the year. Brett Hodgson thinks the injury to his leg is just a cork, and hopefully for the Wests Tigers, it is as simple as that.