June 2022

Tigers vs Souths | Halves vs Halves

Breaking down the NRL round seven upset between the Wests Tigers and South Sydney Rabbitohs through the performance of their halves.

Round seven saw the bottom dwelling Wests Tigers fresh off an upset victory over the Parramatta Eels playing the top eight South Sydney Rabbitohs who continued to search for better fluency in attack.

South Sydney appear as a team still searching for its attacking identity since the departure of Adam Reynolds, compounded by an injury to fullback Latrell Mitchell.

While the Wests Tigers are engaging in another rollercoaster of a season. Neither side looks particularly slick, but for a two week period, the joint venture managed valuable one point wins over the Parramatta Eels and Rabbitohs as the media drums beat louder and louder for Michael Maguire’s head.

Maguire eventually lost his job following round 13.

Much of the focus has been on Luke Brooks and his position at Concord. The one-time NRL Dally M halfback of the year has struggled to get anywhere near to that form again as the Tigers careened from finals contenders to cellar dwellers over the proceeding three seasons.

Maguire sought to try and relieve some of that pressure by moving new recruit Jackson Hastings into the number seven jersey and giving him greater control over the side.

There’s another discussion to be had about Brooks’ value to the Tigers. He’s never been short on commitment or effort, he’d pack down in the front row if asked to, but his value to the Tigers is often discussed alongside his hefty pay packet.

He’s reportedly on more than $1 million a season as of next year, putting him alongside Nathan Cleary. Except Cleary has a premiership and Origin jersey to his name.

On the other side of the ball, the Rabbitohs decided to extend the contract of Cody Walker, while letting favourite son Adam Reynolds walk to the Brisbane Broncos.

Time will tell how wise or foolish that decision was, but after nine rounds, Reynolds’ Broncos were in eighth, while his old team sat in ninth.

The round seven clash between Souths and the Tigers was a tale of two halves.

The Tigers with a fresh pairing thrust together out of necessity and playing desperately for a win against a Souths pairing chosen because the club decided their long-time general wasn’t worth another contract.


A week previously the Tigers had fought, and scrapped and ultimately found a field goal late in the match to beat a very poor and scratchy Eels side. Jackson Hastings’ boot was the difference. It was the Tigers’ first win of the season.

For Souths, they had run away fairly comfortable 20 point winners over the hapless Bulldogs. The Rabbitohs weren’t anywhere near their attacking best, but they had a 3-3 record and new halfback Lachlan Ilias seemed to be getting more comfortable in first grade.

First Half

Had this match been played two weeks earlier, most would have tipped a comfortable Souths win. But the Tigers’ round six win added some intrigue and the first 20 minutes didn’t see the Rabbitohs come out all guns blazing.

In fact, despite an opening rush field position for Souths, the Tigers struck first through a sweetly worked move on the right edge.

Jackson Hastings was the man in control for the joint venture early on. He was at first receiver constantly and doing a lot of the early kicking.

In this attacking raid, Hastings looks to play down the right edge on tackle one, but South Sydney’s fast moving and well set defensive line shuts down his options so he just dumps the ball inside to Zane Musgrove to cart the ball forward.

Next tackle Hastings is in at first receiver again and, having already seen how Souths are trying to defend, recognises the up and in shape, and hits Daine Laurie whose slick hands see David Nofoaluma over in the corner.

It’s mature ball playing. The ball to Laurie was the safer option. Some halves would choose to go over the top to hit the winger on the full which would give the defence time to slide.

Laurie getting the ball and beating his defender meant Nofoaluma only really had to beat one defender coming across instead of three or four.

Inside the first 10 minutes the Tigers lead 6-0 and then receive the added bonus of Taane Milne being sin binned for a high shot on Laurie as he threw the pass for the try.

What’s clear though is the different ways the two sides are attacking through their halves.

The Tigers are mostly going through Hastings. They’re playing a very traditional halfback at first receiver, five-eighth at second receiver system, with Brooks occasionally filling in or taking the last tackle kick.

The Rabbitohs are mostly opting for split halves with each sharing the duties. That is until they get into the red zone, with Cody Walker then seemingly calling for the ball more down the left edge.

Souths also have the advantage of Cameron Murray operating as a middle ball player, meaning he’s often in at first receiver to distribute the ball to his halves.

Despite Milne’s sin bin, the Rabbitohs end up enjoying better field position and score even though they’re down a man.

They go to their trusty left edge, through the hands and while Alex Johnston is rounded up by the cover defence, he manages to drop the ball out the back for Cody Walker to score.

For this move, Ilias has positioned himself on the right with Walker on the left playing at second receiver off Cameron Murray.

Souths are in again not long after, still with Milne in the sin bin. This time it’s a lot smoother and Alex Johnston goes over untouched.

In many ways it’s a simplified version of what they were doing last year with Jacob Host running a decoy and Walker hitting Johnston on the chest. 

There’s no sweeping fullback to fill the Latrell Mitchell hole, just fast, efficient ball playing from Cam Murray who gets Walker outside Hastings and creates the overlap.

The Tigers hit back though and it’s a perfect example of the halves being completely in sync. 

Unlike Souths, the Tigers have Hastings in at first receiver and his initial double pump to James Tamou tightens up the Rabbitohs’ right edge.

This gives Brooks space to do likewise by dummying to Alex Seyfarth which holds up Ilias before he throws a delightful ball to Starford To’a who finds Ken Maumalo to score in the corner.

The ball from Brooks deceives Campbell Graham into thinking Laurie is getting it like he almost always does, and creates the two on one overlap.

After 25 minutes the Tigers only lead 12-10 despite Souths spending 10 of those minutes with a man in the sin bin and the Tigers having 51 per cent of possession.

The Rabbitohs were deadly in that period, playing the ball 10 times in the opposition’s 20 metre zone and scoring two tries. 

Much of this early advantage was down to their territory with 58 percent of the game being played in the Tigers’ half.

As established through the first try, the Tigers can score points, but they didn’t have the field position after that to pressure the Rabbitohs until, funnily enough, Souths had their full complement on the field.

In terms of halves involvement, Hastings had 22 touches after the opening 25 minutes, with Brooks possessing it 14 times. Tigers lock Joe Ofahengaue had also received the ball 10 times, running it on six occasions.

For Souths, Walker had been on the ball 13 times and Ilias 10, which was also level with Cameron Murray. The Souths lock though had only run the ball on four occasions, highlighting his use as a middle ball player.

With barely a minute left the Rabbitohs set off on a length of the field break with Ilias caught by Liddle just short of the line. An offside Alex Twal on the next tackle is sent to the sin bin.

Second Half

By half time the Tigers lead 12-10 and the tale of the tape is an interesting one.

The Tigers have had 62 percent possession and completed at 96 percent. Yet the Rabbitohs, despite only completing at 69 percent, have enjoyed 55 percent of territory and are only 97 running metres behind the Tigers.

The Tigers also managed 21 play the balls in the opposition 20 metre zone compared to Souths’ 14.

What this all means is that while the Tigers had more possession, they weren’t very effective in using it, even when Souths were down to 12 men.

Early in the second half Souths make use of their one man advantage by scoring through James Mansour to go ahead 16-12.

From there the Tigers score back-to-back tries, one off a well worked scrum play, the second through a 70 metre Luke Brooks run after he pounced on a loose Ilias pass.

It should also be mentioned that Brooks has made this effort after spending 15 minutes playing hooker to give Jacob Liddle a rest. 

Souths though draw level at 20-all through Keaon Koloamatagi who takes a nice short ball from Ilias and strolls through a gap between Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart.

From here we enter field goal territory and neither side is particularly good at this. It’s perhaps a situation where Souths would have loved the organising general that is Adam Reynolds who is also one of the best field goal exponents in the game.

For the Tigers first shot, they do a fantastic job of making metres through the middle, shifting the ball to the left upright and allowing Hastings to kick off his right side.

The only problem here is the lack of punch from James Tamou on the final carry. It means Murray gets into marker and can heavily pressure Hastings who is well off target with his shot. The Tigers have also only set the one blocker and he is not in position to prevent the run of Murray.

The resultant seven tackle set gives the Tigers field position to take their shot.

And from tackle four their entire set up is blown to shreds. Cook has no one to pass to out of dummy half, so desperately flings the ball to Arrow who finds Murray and then goes to Walker and the ball dies on the right edge.

On tackle three of that set, Ilias had taken a shot down the left edge, seeing if he couldn’t catch the Tigers out. There’s nothing inherently wrong doing that given a try virtually kills the game off.

But he didn’t get back to first receiver, Walker was on the other side of the field and Murray was in the middle meaning Cook was left with no one to direct traffic.

It’s a pure example of a rookie halfback forgetting his role in that moment.

The actual shot itself is set up better than the Tigers in that they have organised blockers. However, the ball is on the wrong side of the field, meaning Ilias’ kicking leg is covered by the rushing defenders. 

Damien Cook doesn’t get to dummy half, leaving Blake Taafe to fill in who throws the ball too high to Ilias.

The Tigers know it’s coming and five of them get there to force Ilias to pass. There’s no second shot option, so he throws it to Arrow who has a brain snap and attempts his own field goal which dribbles harmlessly dead.

He would have been better off getting tackle 10 metres out from the line and forcing the Tigers to work it off their own line.

The Tigers get a second opportunity to take a shot. But they’re disorganised. Despite a good run and offload from James Tamou on tackle three, Jackson Hastings decides to dart from dummy half on tackle four, taking himself out of play for the shot.

The Tigers are too far wide of the posts for an optimal shot given the length of the pass needed for to reach Jock Madden and the slow Hastings play the ball gives Cook and Arrow time to get off the line and charge down the attempt.

The Tigers are only saved by the fact the ball initially bounces off Damien Cook and into Jai Arrow which is ruled accidental offside.

By now Hastings has decided it’s time for a little deception so on the ensuing set he prepares for a shot on third tackle and acts a decoy, taking the pass from dummy half and immediately firing to Madden.

The Rabbitohs are awake to it and force Madden to run the ball.

Hastings acts orchestrator and sets them to the right upright, directing Ofahengaue to take a hit up.

This time he’s purely acting as a decoy with Luke Brooks and his left boot set up to take the shot. Brooks nails the shot with the Rabbitohs out on their feet and initially sold up the river by Hastings also lurking behind the ruck.

The Difference

Ultimately the Tigers escaped with a one point, 23-22 upset victory. Their second win in a row became a false dawn as they failed to win another match for a month before managing to overcome the even worse Bulldogs.

And much of those following losses wasn’t really even down to their halves. Ultimately, it was a regression to the Tigers’ mean.

Against the Rabbitohs they completed at a superhuman 98 percent. For a side struggling to win and struggling to move the ball up field, at least holding the ball would keep them in the fight.

Souths though only completed at 74 percent but still enjoyed 58 percent of the territory.

What’s even more interesting though is how each side’s halves controlled the ball. Hastings received the ball 102 times to Brooks’ 60 and that’s even with Brooks filling in at hooker for 15 minutes.

Compare that with Souths where Cody Walker received the ball 38 times and Lachlan Ilias 39 times. Also handling the ball 29 times was Taaffe, which was 10 more than his opposite number Daine Laurie.

Five weeks later and the script was well and truly flipped. The Tigers completed at just 69 percent compared to Souths’ 80 percent.

Walker and Ilias were even with 42 possessions each.

On the Tigers side of the ball it was Brooks with 34 possessions and Hastings with 72 possessions.

But the difference in five weeks showed that the Tigers relied on being close to perfect with Hastings dominating on the ball to squeak a win, and when they were unable to hold the ball, despite Hastings once again dominating the playmaking duties the joint venture was unable to challenge Souths across the park.


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