Bulldogs survive late fright to condemn Tigers to third straight loss

In this week’s edition of rare rugby league skills from Tigertown, how to make the other team look more likely to score attacking inside their red zone.

If last week against a 12-man Knights, and the week before against a barely-hanging-on Titans were frustrating, then this week there’s a new trick: making the opposition look deadly when they’re defending their own line.

On a scorching day at Belmore, the Tigers threatened one of the zaniest comebacks of the NRL era, and then plunged to their third straight loss to start the year as the coach they once courted came back to haunt them in the Bulldogs’ nervy 26-22 win at Belmore on Sunday.

Is there anything that says Wests Tigers more than how it unfolded?

Playing like they looked like they hadn’t known each other for more than hour, they scored three tries out of absolutely nowhere from long range in five minutes to threaten one of the wildest turnarounds in the NRL era … and still fell short.

They can talk about how they almost came back from 20 points down with 15 minutes left, and how Luke Brooks sparked the comeback. They should probably focus on where it all went wrong in the first 65 minutes, with a bunch of guys who looked like they’d barely met each other.

The Bulldogs celebrate Hayze Perham’s first try.Credit:Getty

To be fair to John Bateman, he’s still going through that process. At least he was on the field for the first time in 2023, even if it meant he might have been sunburnt by half-time.

“We chased them and nearly caught them,” Tigers coach Tim Sheens said. “A couple of instances I’m going to have a whinge about later that might have changed the course of the game. I’ll bring it up with the referees.”

Sheens wouldn’t bring up why he benched winger David Nofoaluma midway through the second half, throwing Brandon Wakeham into the halves with Adam Doueihi replacing Charlie Staines at fullback. He flat out refused to explain why.

Temperatures nudged 33 degrees at kick-off, and it was a minor miracle the game even went ahead at the scheduled time, notwithstanding the drinks breaks and longer half-time interval.

It was the same old story – albeit with some creative twists – for Luke Brooks and the Tigers at Belmore.Credit:Getty

The NSW Cup players slogged it out in temperatures hitting 36 degrees, and on the sideline the Bulldogs’ interchange bench held umbrellas to shield themselves from the heat as fans snaked along the hill according to the shadows from the light towers.

As for Ciraldo, he’s no longer hiding in the shadows.

Sheens wanted him to take over the Tigers, and when he couldn’t get him, decided to do the job himself. Ciraldo will be sleeping well over his choice.

But he now knows what stress levels are like.

Viliame Kikau makes a bust at Belmore.Credit:Getty

“Just a little bit,” Ciraldo said. “We made it hard for ourselves. We played well for 60 minutes and that last 15 or 20 minutes, we lost our way. But we’re still a new team and we’re learning.

“I’m happy we’re getting better every week. Of course it’s frustrating we’re not an 80-minute team yet, but we’re getting closer.”

Even in the battle of his old Penrith players, Ciraldo seems to be winning. Viliame Kikau monstered good friend Api Koroisau in a couple of tackles; Matt Burton manhandled Charlie Staines.

As Kikau stepped inside Doueihi and found fullback Hayze Perham for the opening try, Koroisau jumped out of dummy-half, looked left, looked right, then realised he had no one with him. His enduring image of the first half was taking a quick tap, out of frustration almost more than logic, splitting the defence and then dropping the ball cold when clean through.

Can you ever remember him doing that at Penrith?

Josh Addo-Carr’s two long-range tries, one from a 90-metre intercept off Doueihi which Paul Alamoti snaffled, the latter when his centre again took a Doueihi bomb and scampered downfield, helped the Bulldogs to a 20-6 half-time lead. It would prove decisive.

Bateman finally played, and almost finished with a try when he grubbered through the line, toed the ball ahead again and then fumbled it trying to score.

The other recruit? David Klemmer got booed at nearly every touch, and finished the match on report for diving at the legs of Raymond Faitala-Mariner. Kikau was also booked for a crusher tackle.

But rugby league has a funny way of, well, being rugby league. After Matt Burton burst 40 metres downfield for a scintillating solo try, the Bulldogs looked home up by 20 points, a margin they held until the final quarter of an hour.

Finally, the Tigers woke up. Brooks woke up. But again, it was too late.

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