On a crisp, windy afternoon at Campbelltown Stadium, the Western Suburbs Magpies went close to securing their first win of the season going down in a nail-biting contest to Cronulla 36-28. The parochial Wests crowd willed on their team to win and the result was in the balance until a try to Cronulla just two minutes from the final siren to centre, Mahe Fonua who scored three tries for the afternoon while for Wests, Tuki Jackson scored a double.
Things started badly for Wests when they coughed up possession on the 4th tackle of the match on their 40m line. From the resulting scrum win, Sharks centre Ricky Leutele pushed off a defender easily and then ran 40m unimpeded to the try line. Halfback Chad Townsend added the extras and it was 6-0 after just 90 seconds.
The Magpies were able to draw level at the 14 minute mark on the back on three consecutive penalties, the last earnt by halfback Trent Touma who charged down a Cronulla kick and was then held down whilst trying desperately to get to his feet for a quick play the ball. Whilst in the Sharks 20m line, Magpies fullback Zoram Watene screamed for the ball and once received, he put in a perfectly placed kick in behind the defence for himself to score out wide. Trent Touma converted and it was 6all.
Wests scored again at the 24th minute when Tuki Jackson, who played Bundaberg Cup last season with Kingsgrove Colts, bulldozed his way out of 2 attempted tackles on a 10m charge close to the line to score near the posts. Touma converted and Wests were in unfamiliar territory leading 12-6.
A penalty goal to Wests at the 30th minute mark by Touma extended the lead to 14-6, something the Magpies have not enjoyed so far this season.
The euphoria however was short lived when Cronulla scored at the 33rd minute mark when winger Stewart Mills scored in the corner despite howls of protest by the Wests players and crowd towards referee Luke Phillips for an obstruction. Townsend conversion attempt went wide and it was 14-10 with Wests in front however Wests conceded a penalty in the next set of six to gift Cronulla field position and they scored at the 36th minute mark when Mahe Fonua scored from a bomb. Townsend missed another conversion attempt but the Sharks had regained the lead 16-14 and that would remain the half time score.
Wests coach, Jason Williams instilled into his side to believe in themselves and to reduce any unforced errors. For once, despite the Sharks first try, the defence of the Magpies was holding firm.
Wests started the second half in the best possible fashion when Jackson scored his second try of the afternoon just 3 minutes in. For the second time in the game, Cronulla were penalised for being in front of the kicker from a goal line drop out. From the resulting play, Jackson proved too strong close to the line to score near the posts. Touma was on target with the extras and the Magpies had regained the lead 20-16.
Cronulla levelled at the 47th minute mark when Fonua sliced through the defence on an angled 20m run to the tryline. Townsend failed to convert and the score was locked up at 20 all.
The next 10 minutes saw some see-soaring play from both sides on the back of errors and a crucial error at the 59 minute mark was made by Wests on their 20m line when they were bungled into touch on a kick retrieve. From the resulting scrum win, Cronulla worked the ball to the eastern grandstand side before interchange player Carlos Hotene scored in the corner. Townsend converted from the sideline and Cronulla were back in front 26-20 and extended the lead at the 64th minute to 32-20 when former Wests Magpies Jersey Flegg player & local Campbelltown junior, Willie Mataka scored in the Western grandstand corner after an angled run by Tyrone Peachey who held the ball up just long enough to draw the defence and pop the ball to Mataka.
However the never-say-die Magpie spirit then kicked in when Daniel La Manna scored in the 70th minute after he regathered his own grubber kick after a ricochet off a Cronulla player. Touma missed the conversion but the Magpies would ensure a grandstand finish when centre Joe Uluibau, playing his first game for the Magpies after starting the year in Bundaberg Cup with Burwood/North Ryde, scored out wide at the end of a passing movement at the 75th minute. Touma was unable to add the extras but it was now Cronulla 32 Wests 28.
The Sharks finished any hope of an upset win by the Magpies when Fonua scored his match sealer at the 78th minute.
For the Magpies, it was their most impressive performance of the year by far and against a side that had won 3 out of their last 4 matches against quality opposition. It truly was a tremendous team performance today by the Magpies and with an ounce of luck, would have secured the two points and their first win.
Trent Touma, who returned to the Magpies, was able to direct the team around the park and Nigel Millgate, who has played halfback all season to date, did an outstanding job in the dummy half role. Both shared the kicking duties and this was one area the Magpies did very well today. Tuki Jackson deserves special praise for his barnstorming runs and Seffa Silafau had the crowd on its feet whenever he charged into the defence. Five-eighth Chris Nay had a terrific game whilst Zoram Watene gave his usual high standard performance at fullback before slotting to the wing late in the game.
The performance of Wests was even more impressive when you consider front rower Jay Maseuli suffered a knee injury very early in the game was took no further part in the game leaving the Magpies with only three interchange players for approx 65 minutes of the match.
For Cronulla, their best two were centre Ricky Leutele and second rower Sam Tagataese. Whilst Fonua scored a hatrick of tries, it was Leutele who was causing trouble for the Wests defence out wide every time he touched the ball. He was able to beat the first tackle on numerous occasions.
The form of the Sharks NRL forward pack is no doubt the reason Tagataese cannot get a start in the top grade. Just like Ricky Leutele, Sam was a constant headache for the Wests defence. Young forwards Tohu Harris and Tyrone Peachey also had outstanding games with Peachey in particular looking like a rising star of the future.
The Magpies tackled North Sydney at North Sydney Oval in the second stage of the Foundation Round next Sunday with the earlier game between Newtown and BRET.
Cronulla 36 (Fonua 3, Leutele, Mills, Mataka, Hotene tries: Townsend 4 goals) def Western Suburbs 28 (Jackson 2, Watene, D La Manna, Uluibau tries: Touma 4 goals),
Half time - Cronulla 16 Wests 14
Scrums: Wests - 6 Cronulla 4
Goal kickers - Cronulla, Chad Townsend 4/8 - Wests, Trent Touma 4/6
1 Zoram Watene
2 Tarrant Mariner
20 Joe Uluibau
4 Greg Davis
5 Michael La Manna
6 Chris Nay
19 Trent Touma
8 Seffa Silafau
7 Nigel Millgate
24 Jay Maseuli
11 Daniel La Manna
3 Michael Lekkas
13 Tom Morrison
9 Henry Godinet
10 Latu Fifita
21 Tuki Jackson
25 Keanu Rogers
1 Callum Tutauha'
17 Sosaia Feki
3 Ricky Leutele
4 Mahe Fonua
5 Stewart Mills
18 Maurice Blair
7 Chad Townsend
12 Sam Tagataese
9 Jake Hawkins
20 Solo Alone
11 Tohu Harris
14 Will Mataka
13 Tyrone Peachey
6 Sam Duggan
19 Carlos Hotene
21 Dylon Cartwright
23 Grahame Clark