Wests Tigers wonder how it came to this
WESTS Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has questioned whether his side's giant-killing fortnight sucked the petrol out of them before their disappointing fade-out against cellar-dwellers Canterbury.
The Tigers had their finals chances all but killed off in their limp 16-4 loss to the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
The equation was simple for the joint venture going into the clash - win and keep their faint finals hopes alive, or lose and start planning for Mad Monday.
It leaves them four points behind the eight-placed Warriors, who take on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
Should the Warriors extended that margin to three wins, it will leave the Tigers with too much to do with five rounds remaining.
The Tigers' faithful went into the game full of optimism after their side toppled title contenders South Sydney and St George Illawarra in consecutive weeks.
But their season has been one of contrasting fortunes, with the Tigers having beaten every current top four team but strugged against sides below them on the table.
"We were flat tonight. We completed well, we got through our sets, got through our plays, I thought we just went through the motions," Cleary said after the match.
"And to Canterbury's credit, that wasn't going to be good enough. They ran a little harder, tackled a bit harder. They had the bounce of the ball from time to time."
The Tigers now look set to miss the finals for the seventh straight season, blowing a golden opportunity to push for a top-eight spot.
"I'd be disappointed any night like that," Cleary said when asked if he was especially disappointed given their past fortnight.
"We lacked energy and maybe those last two games took a bit out of us. I don't know.
"You need to turn up and play with a bit more spark than that."
Despite having 31 tackles - or the equivalent of five sets of six - inside the Bulldogs' 20m zone, the Tigers could come up with only one try - through Esan Marsters.
The result will only heighten questions about the side's attack after their struggle for points all year.
Skipper Russell Packer was at a loss to explain how the team managed to produce such a disappointing performance after looking so dynamic and energetic against the Rabbitohs at the same ground just six days earlier.
"We set a pretty good standard against two good teams and we couldn't deliver for whatever reason," Packer said.
"Individually we will look at where we can improve."