Five years of waiting is over for Wests Tigers, who have virtually guaranteed their first appearance in the NRL finals since their premiership of 2005 with a 43-18 thrashing of Penrith at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Year after year the Tigers have promised much and delivered little but they were ready to cast a gorilla from their backs after a seven tries to three victory over the Panthers on Sunday, Englishman Gareth Ellis scoring the two most important in a man-of-the-match performance.
“Hopefully 30 points means we’re in the semis, it’s just a matter now of how high we want to finish,” Tigers captain Robbie Farah said.
“We haven’t made the semis in four years and … it’s been a bit of a burden.
“There’s a lot of expectation from our group, we’ve got a lot of supporters and we’ve got a quality squad and this year anything less than a semi-final appearance wasn’t good enough.
“We’re there now, it’s just a matter of what we’re going to do with it.”
The Tigers will also be relieved to have critics of their scratchy recent form off their backs despite an impressive record of nine wins from their last 12.
“(We) got whacked by Souths at the start of the year and all the knives came out but we stuck together and made something of our season,” Farah said.
“Then we lose again last week (to Souths again) and get criticised again.
“I’m sure tomorrow (the media) might be talking about ’05 again.
“We get one win and you guys just jump on the bandwagon or want to stab us in the back when we’re going poorly.”
Ellis terrorized the Panthers’ right side defence, scything through to score in the 58th and 70th minutes to ensure the Tigers’ top four hopes remained on track.
“Maybe at the beginning of the year a lot of people at the club would have been happy with making the finals after so long not making the eight,” Ellis said.
“We’re in a good position now to kick on from this, it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often.
“It would be silly for us to just be happy with making the eight and not pushing on for the ultimate goal of the premiership.”
Barnstorming interchange forward Andrew Fifita also scored two, while five-eighth Benji Marshall continued his new kicking form by booting seven from seven in front of 17,208 fans.
Disappointing Penrith have now lost five of their last six and, despite sitting in second place when the weekend began, are now in danger of missing out on a home final.
“I felt for the first time this year we came second by a long way in the area of attitude,” Panthers coach Matt Elliott said.
“That’s probably the most disappointing thing.
“I felt I was out-coached today. They were a bit smart for us (in) every area.”
* Melbourne Storm have been stripped of all premiership points for the 2010 season