Benji Marshall, the New Zealand international, scored three tries to inspire Wests Tigers to a 26-14 win over Melbourne Storm yesterday and move them a step closer to securing a top two spot for the Australian NRL finals. The stand-off was the difference as the Tigers pulled two points clear of the Gold Coast Titans in second place behind St George Illawarra Dragons, the competition leaders, with one round left before the play-offs next month.
The Tigers only need to beat the Titans on the Gold Coast next week or lose by a small margin to finish second and give themselves a chance of earning a second-chance spot in the play-offs. Marshall was in irrepressible form, scoring tries in the 13th, 47th and 77th minutes and landing three goals from five attempts for a personal haul of 18 points before a full house of 20,000 at the Leichhardt Oval.
The only negative on the day for the Tigers was a broken jaw for Chris Lawrence, which could rule him out for the rest of the season. With a number of players also carrying knocks the Tigers are facing something of an injury crisis, but Tim Sheens, their coach, is optimistic they have enough strength in depth. "There'll be players there that'll step up and be very keen to get an opportunity to play next week, let alone the opportunity to maybe play in a semi-final," he said.
In other action yesterday, a hat-trick of tries from Shaun Kenny-Dowall crowned a Sydney Roosters' comeback in a 30-14 win over Manly Sea Eagles. The Roosters rallied from 14-0 down late in the first half to score 30 unanswered points, with Kenny-Dowall, the New Zealand Test centre, going over three times to keep their own hopes of a home final alive. Manly slipped to seventh on the standings and could possibly still miss the finals.
* Australian Associated Press