The improved performance of Wests Tigers in their 24-20 victory against Newcastle Knights came off the back of three things.
Firstly, and the most important, the forward pack, led by Zane Musgrove, finally showed some menace. Alex Twal was also aggressive, as was Luke Garner and James Tamou.
Coming off the bench, giant young prop Stefano Utoikamanu scored a sensational try and looks like there’s a long NRL career ahead of him. New recruit Joe Ofahengaue, also coming off the bench, was energetic in attack and defence in his best game so far in Wests Tigers colours.
So for the first time this season, the Wests Tigers forwards sent a signal that they won’t be a pushover anymore.
But there’s room for lots and lots of improvement and what better test than Easter Monday’s clash with the Parramatta Eels at Homebush
The second area where the team improved was in the spine, where Daine Laurie, Adam Doueihi, Luke Brooks and Jacob Liddle all had arguably their best games this season.
And there were signs this young foursome could build into a very dangerous combination given some time together.
Indeed it was good to see Brooks get the critics off his back with an impressive performance.
And the final area of improvement was that Wests Tigers did not drop their bundle when the Knights came for them late in the second half.
The game could have so easily have been lost at that stage, but Wests Tigers maintained their composure to go on and score the winning try.
Heading into this crunch game against a resurgent Parramatta, Michael Maguire’s boys will once again need to show some mongrel in the forward exchanges, which is where the match will be won.
As for the coach, he will need to continue being tough with sub par performers in his squad. Dropping Leilua paid dividends, so he knows that’s the right approach.
Beating the Eels will be a tough assignment, but improvements in the areas noted above will be welcomed by the fans.
It was interesting that nobody, no fans, players or officials, were getting away with the first win of the season in Newcastle.
But those improvements have given them all hope that there could be the chance of some joy in 2021.
Meanwhile Maguire has named an unchanged team for his side’s clash against the Eels, which will kick off from 4pm.
Alex Twal has been named at lock and will take part in Monday’s game regardless of his outcome at the NRL judiciary tonight. Twal is contesting a grade 1 contrary conduct charge following last week’s win, with the forward facing a monetary fine if found guilty.
WESTS TIGERS TEAM LIST: ROUND 4
1. Daine Laurie
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Tommy Talau
4. James Roberts
5. Asu Kepaoa
6. Adam Doueihi
7. Luke Brooks
8. Zane Musgrove
9. Jacob Liddle
10. James Tamou (captain)
11. Luke Garner
12. Luciano Leilua
13. Alex Twal
14. Moses Mbye
15. Thomas Mikaele
16. Stefano Utoikamanu
17. Joe Ofahengaue
18. Russell Packer
19. Joey Leilua
20. Michael Chee Kam
21. Alex Seyfarth