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NRL Central West: Tigers break drought under heavy rains to beat Penrith Panthers 12-8

April 29, 2023

Tigers give Panthers something to think about. Photo: Wests Tigers.

By Peter Holmes

Wests Tigers stunned just about everybody - fans, friends, family and possibly even themselves - to pull off a remarkable NRL victory in Bathurst on Saturday night.

"It's a mad feeling," Tigers playmaker Brandon Wakeham told the ABC after the win.

It was the hottest, and coldest, ticket in the Central West as the Tigers managed to hold on to win 12-8 in a rain-soaked affair in front of more than 11,000 people at Carrington Park.

At half time it is 8-8. This is highly unusual for the Tigers, who have been cruelled by dreadful first half performances throughout the first rounds of the 2023 competition. By the time they find some rhythm in the second half, it's often all over. The only points they have this season have come from the bye.

Few believe they can hold on in the second stanza on Saturday night, given:

a) They are playing the reigning premiers, who have high grade cattle with names such as Dylan Edwards, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.

b) Wests Tigers are better than any other team in any sport on any continent at finding ways to lose games they have no business losing. This tragicomedy is something Tigers supporters hold dear, as it's all they have. Better to be good at something, right?

Much maligned Tigers halfback Luke Brooks, who is paid handsomely for his mid-level talents, kicks two 40-20s, and from each the Tigers score tries. Remarkable. Just do that again every week.

At 12-8 Wests have the chance to go out by six points, but a penalty goal that any decent Under 16s kicker would have sent soaring 'tween the posts goes wide. Of course it does.

The sinking feeling for Tigers fans is familiar. With about 11 minutes to go, a Panther was sin-binned for a thigh drop. This just makes it worse.

The awful visions of what was likely about to happen flooded the mind of the long-suffering Wests Tigers fan. How can the Tigers, with 13 players, manage to lose against an exhausted team with 12? Oh, they can, and they will. Somehow they will find a way. A dropped ball, a high tackle, kicking out on the full, someone getting shocking cramp just as Nathan Cleary is about to cruise by - the options are myriad, each one more appalling than the one before.

Ten minutes. Nine minutes. Eight minutes. The Tigers have chances to shut it down, but can't get the pill over the line. They don't know how to ice a game. They get the yips. Fumble and bumble.

Seven minutes. Six minutes. Five minutes. Four minutes.

Seconds tick by and the Tigers don't throw an intercept pass. They play solid sets upfield.

Time slows to a crawl. Each second takes a minute, each minute an hour.

With only a few minutes left on the clock Penrith Panthers are closing in on the Wests Tigers try line.

So this is how it will end. Cleary or Edwards or To'o or Peachey or Crichton or some other bloke dripping with confidence will do something - a bomb, a chip, a floating pass out to the wing, a grubber, a barge - and that something will again crush the hopes of the beleaguered The Wests Tigers fan. The fan is accepting. They've seen it 100 times before.

Three minutes. Two minutes. One minute.

The siren sounds, but for the Wests Tigers fan this means nothing. The ref has not yet blown their whistle. The hooter can do what it likes, but until the ref blows their whistle, the game is live. Wests Tigers fan knows that bad things can happen in this limbo land. They've seen it. Tasted it.

But no touchie runs on, their flag in the air. No Panther makes a captain's challenge. Nobody in the bunker gets in the ref's ear about something in back play.

The whistle is blown. The disbelief. The relief.

Wests Tigers are back, baby. Never in doubt.

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