Wests Tigers have kept their finals hopes alive with a courageous 25-16 win over the Newcastle Knights tonight in their Round 21 clash at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Leading by 18 points and seemingly in control of the match, Ivan Cleary's side found themselves under all sorts of pressure in the second half as Kalyn Ponga inspired a rousing comeback from the Knights.
However, a late field goal from Luke Brooks ensured there would be breathing room for the visitors as the final moments played out — keeping Wests Tigers in the hunt for their first top eight finish since 2011.
Wests Tigers got off to the perfect start when Ken Sio's opening kickoff travelled long, giving the visitors the chance to work the ball down field and open up an early 2-0 lead inside the opening minutes.
They would soon extend that lead further when Russell Packer spun his way out of Lachlan Fitzgibbon's attempted tackle to crash over next to the posts for his first try in Wests Tigers colours.
Esan Marsters had no problem adding the extras to take the score beyond a converted try, before the Knights hit back through captain Sione Mata'utia to score the 1000th try of the 2018 NRL season.
Sio's tough night with the boot would continue — hitting the post with his conversion attempt before sending another kickoff out on the full to put Wests Tigers back on the attack. From there, he would find himself off to the sin bin for a professional foul on Benji Marshall, with Marsters again taking the opportunity to add to his penalty tally for the night and put Wests Tigers back up by eight points.
Looking to take advantage of their man advantage, Ivan Cleary's side would eventually cross for a crucial four-pointer just before the break as Brooks continued his good night to crash over out wide.
Marsters was unable to convert this time, however, leaving the half-time score at 16-4.
A short ball from Robbie Farah put Sauaso Sue in the clear shortly after the break with the prop forward looking destined to score his first try of the year — only to be pulled up for a knee lift on Ponga.
That would only momentarily dent the momentum of the visitors, though, with Brooks and Farah combining around the ruck to send the hooker for his first try since returning to Wests Tigers. As well as being a crucial four-pointer for his side, the try would also see Robbie Farah pass Luke Priddis for the most tries scored in Telstra Premiership history by a hooker, with Marsters converting for a 22-4 lead.
Despite being clearly hampered by an ankle injury, Corey Thompson looked to have crossed for another try moments later but his effort was denied by the Bunker with said ankle just scraping the touchline.
Kept quiet by Wests Tigers for the majority of the first half, Ponga would eventually get in to the clear and drag the Knights back in to the contest with his trademark step close to the line just creating enough space for him to crash over. Sio would get some joy on the night as he cut the lead to 22-10 with 20 minutes remaining, before the Knights set the match up for a grandstand finish with Aidan Guerra burrowing over.
Only a desperate goal-line scramble from Wests Tigers' right edge would deny Guerra a second as the game ticked over in to the final 10 minutes, before Brooks' crucial one-pointer would edge the visitors lead beyond a converted try with less than five minutes remaining in the contest to seal the win.
Wests Tigers 25 (Packer, Brooks, Farah tries; Marsters 6/7 goals; Brooks field goal) def. Newcastle Knights 16 (Mata'utia, Ponga, Guerra tries; Sio 2/3 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium