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'It was extraordinary': Bula magic late helps Wests Tigers to gritty win

Wests Tigers have survived a last-minute Dragons miracle to record back-to-back wins for the first time in over 12 months following an 18-16 victory in Magic Round on Sunday. 

Tries to Starford To'a and David Nofoaluma on the right edge set up a 14-10 half-time lead for the joint venture before a Junior Tupou effort got the side back in front with a quarter of the game remaining.

A try-saving tackle led by Jahream Bula - his third of the match - on Mikaele Ravalawa in the 79th minute fended off a late Dragons win in a thrilling finale at Suncorp Stadium.

Despite a spirited effort from recalled Dragon Jayden Sullivan, who crossed for a double in his return to first grade, the Wests Tigers always looked the side more likely in the first of three Magic Round games on Sunday.

Bula was brilliant for Wests Tigers, coming up with three key defensive plays and looking a threat through the middle in just his third NRL game.

Wests Tigers save it

It was an unfortunate finish for the Dragons, who have now lost their last five matches by a total of just 13 points in a tale of their season.

Wests Tigers opened the scoring via a penalty goal early before Mikaele Ravalawa charged over the line in his return from a hamstring injury to get the Dragons on the board. 

To'a's effort was equally matched by Nofoaluma eight minutes later to set up a handy 10-point lead with rookie fullback Bula providing a tap-on pass for the veteran winger to cross for his 101st career try.

Sullivan makes an immediate impact

Wests Tigers five-eighth Brandon Wakeham slotted two impressive conversions from out wide, then a 40/20, but it was his inability to find touch from a penalty that enabled the Dragons to get back into the game.

Despite a whirlwind couple of minutes for Tyrell Sloan with his hands before the break it was Sullivan again who produced the magic to put the Dragons in front in the 52nd minute with another solo effort.

A successful short kick-off from Wakeham swung momentum back Wests Tigers' way with the joint venture going 90-metres the following set with Junior Tupou crossing out wide to get the side back on top.

The two-point lead was all Tim Sheens' side required to grind out a victory - albeit with an almighty scare at the death.

Match snapshot

  • Wests Tigers forward John Bateman was a late withdrawal pre-game due to a hamstring injury suffered in the warm-up.
  • Wests Tigers completed at 90 per cent for the afternoon, completing 38 of 42 sets.
  • Dragons playmaker Jayden Sullivan made a big statement in his comeback to first grade with two tries and two goals.
  • Sullivan's inclusion saw Ben Hunt move to hooker mid-game in a possible switch that could become permanent for the Dragons.
  • Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma has now scored nine tries in his past seven games at Suncorp Stadium.
  • Jahream Bula came up with three try-saving efforts during the match and ran for 180 metres in the win.
  • Brandon Wakeham produced a 40/20, two sideline conversions and a short goal-line drop out to add a point of difference to Wests Tigers on Sunday.
  • Wests Tigers have recorded back-to-back wins for the first time since April 2022.
  • Mikaele Ravalawa was enormous for the Red V in his return from a hamstring injury, scoring a try and running for over 180 metres.
  • The Dragons have now lost all four Magic Round games since 2019.

Play of the game

Jahream Bula's defensive effort last week against Penrith on Nathan Cleary was enormous and the Wests Tigers fullback was in the thick of the action again in the 79th minute with a big play late.

Bula does it again

What they said

"[Jahream's tackle] was extraordinary, to tackle a centre, let him go and chase another and then shove the big winger over the sideline... match-winning stuff, same as last week. I did say he was a fair player. Winning is what pro footy is about, not only for coaches, players and fans. You've got to get it in professional sport... the pressure is on. I'm not getting any younger for the heart attack stuff the last couple of weeks." - Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens.

"We're close but just doing enough to get beat. For long periods we were coming to get the game in the second half and were patient. At vital times we'd come up with the wrong option or an error at the play-the-ball. It's heartbreaking for everyone. We've just got to stare at it in the face and keep going. We could've had 3-4 wins over the last five weeks but we haven't. I'm not worried [about my future]." - Dragons coach Anthony Griffin.

NRL Press Conference: Wests Tigers v Dragons - Round 10, 2023

What's next

Both sides have six-day turnarounds ahead and will feature on Saturday afternoon. Wests Tigers will take on in-form South Sydney at Accor Stadium with John Bateman (hamstring) in some doubt to be available. The Dragons will travel to Queensland Country Bank Stadium to take on the Cowboys. New recruit Alec Tuitavake is due to make a return from a knee injury while Tautau Moga (shoulder) is another week away.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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