A rare Friday night VB NSW Cup match saw the struggling Western Suburbs Magpies lift their intensity and almost cause a boilover against their much more fancied opponent, Cronulla at Toyota Stadium. A final scoreline of 34-18 in favour of Cronulla did not reflect the closeness of the match with the Magpies poor finishing, some lapses in defence out wide and just plain bad luck costing the side their first win of the season.
The first 15 minutes saw both sides squander possession through poor handling resulting in turnovers and it was poor handling that resulted in the first try in the game at the 19th minute mark when a last tackle bomb on Wests tryline was dropped and Cronulla centre Ricky Leutele was there to clean up the spill and give a slick backhand pass to second rower Tyson Frizell to score out wide. The conversion attempt went wide and Cronulla was up 4-0.
Both sets of forwards were at each other from the word go and it was a good old fashion tussle between two very determined forward packs and this continued throughout the match with several skirmishes.
But it was Cronulla who were able to capitalise next through back to back errors from Wests. From a scrum on their 30 metre line, Wests were bundled into touch on the first tackle. After winning the scrum, Cronulla worked their way to the tryline and were awarded a penalty 10 metres out. From the ensuing play, Melbourne Storm player, Maurice Blair charged onto a flat pass and scored without a hand being paid on him adjacent to the posts right on the 30 minute mark. Jake Wallsh converted and Cronulla led 10-0.
From the kick off, Cronulla coughed up possession on the first tackle 20 metres out from their tryline. Spurred on by the surprisingly strong contingent of Magpie supporters at the game, David Fifita who returned to Wests during the week after having playing park football at the start of the year, charged onto a pass from the scrum win brushing aside the defence with ease to find a flying Zoram Watene on his outside who scored at the 32 minute mark. New recruit Chase Mason added the extras and Wests were back in the game at 10-6.
However on the back of consecutive penalties, Cronulla score with just seconds left on the clock to halftime when Storm winger, Sisa Waqa latched onto a great cut out pass to out sprint the Wests defence on a 30metre dash to the tryline. The attempt at conversion was unsuccessful and the score at halftime was 14-6 in favour of Cronulla.
The first half was certainly even with Wests throwing the ball wide at every opportunity and winger Greg Davis was found in open space several times only to kick infield as the defence converged. Cronulla were also dangerous out wide, particularly when Ricky Leutele and Sisa Waqa were running at the defence.
The second half started well for the Magpies who received back to back penalties within the first three minutes and finally broke the Cronulla defence in the fourth minute. On the Cronulla 10 metre line Dean Parata made a dummy half run across field and picked up Nigel Millgate in support who stepped inside a tackler to score his first try of the season. Chase Mason added the extras and it was game on - 14-12 to Cronulla.
Cronulla extended their lead at the 54 minute mark. Receiving a penalty on Wests 30 metre line, Josh Lambert scored in the corner shortly afterwards when he was on the end of a passing movement along the backline. Jake Walsh converted from the sideline and it was 20-12 to Cronulla.
Wests missed an opportunity to hit back at the 59 minute mark when a pass from centre Tuki Jackson to replacement winger Michael Lekkas went to ground with the tryline wide open. But worse was to come for Wests. A dropped ball from Nigel Millgate on Cronulla's 20 metre line saw Ben Hampton score from the ensuing scrum win by squeezing through the defence and sprinting 80 metres to score beside the posts at the 62 minute mark and the referee awarded an eight point try after he deemed foul play in the process of Hampton scoring the try. Jake Walsh converted the try and also added the extras from the penalty in front and it was now 28-12 to Cronulla.
Wests were not going to lie down and hit back in the 69th minute. After receiving a penalty on Cronulla's 40 metre line, big Seffa Silafu took the ball up and burst through the defences and found Michael Lekkasin support who scored in the corner. A towering conversion from the side line from Chase Mason pulled the score back to 28-18 but Cronulla score the final points in the game two minutes from time when winger Sisa Waqa scored his second try of the night after a Cronulla scrum win on the Wests 40 metre line and showed a clean pair of heels outpacing the Wests defence to score near the posts and with Jake Walsh converting, the final score read Cronulla 34 Wests 18.
The game was Wests best performance by far this season. They were commited in defence and the forwards were able to get over the advantage line particularly with big men Aaron Sweeney, David Fifita and Jay Maseuli. Poor finishing was Wests main culprit tonight and coach Trevor Schodel whilst disappointed at the loss, certainly has a team which is improving. A win is not too far away.
For Wests, prop Aaron Sweeney never stopped trying in attack and defence and had over 70 minutes of game time which is rare for any front rower, David Fifita made a welcome return and made many damaging runs at the Cronulla forwards consistantly beating the first man, Dean Parata was a terrier in defence and continues to impress with his dummy half work and Zoram Watene was solid at fullback. Alex Frail was very good in defence until succumbing to injury in the first half.
For Cronulla, Ricky Leutele and Sisa Waqa were always causing headaches for the Wests centres/wingers whilst front rower Michael Greenfield was solid in defence and Maurice Blair created opportunities for his outside men.
Wests next game is against the North Sydney Bears at Henson Park on Saturday 21st April starting at 12.45pm which is part of the Foundation Round - a double header which also sees Newtown taking on Balmain/Ryde Eastwood.
Cronulla 34 (Sisa Waqa 2, Tyson Frizell, Maurice Blair, Josh Lambert, Ben Hampton tries: Jake Walsh 5 goals) def Western Suburbs 18 (Zoram Watene, Nigel Millgate, Michael Lekkas tries: Chase Mason 3 goals)
Half time - Cronulla 14 Wests 6
1 Nesiasi Mataitonga
19 Callum Tutauha
3 Ricky Leutele
2 Josh Lambert
5 Sisa Waqa
16 Jake Walsh
22 Ben Hampton
20 Jaimen Lowe
9 Jake Hawkins
10 Michael Greenfield
11 Tyson Frizell
6 Maurice Blair
13 Tyrone Peachley
7 Sam Duggan
8 Solo Alone
12 Haydn Peacock
15 Johdin Mathers
1 Zoram Watene
2 Sharlon Taki
3 Chase Mason
25 Tuki Jackson
19 Greg Davis
6 Dean Parata
7 Nigel Millgate
8 Henry Iuta
9 Steven Rooney
10 Aaron Sweeney
11 Mundarra Weldon
12 Daniel La Manna
13 Alex Frail
14 Michael Lekkas
16 Sefa Silafu
17 Jay Maseuli
21 David Fifita