Wests Tigers' Jersey Flegg side have fallen just short the 2019 finals with a 22-18 defeat to the New Zealand Warriors in their final regular season game today at Mount Smart Stadium.
Needing to win their Round 25 clash, Wests Tigers found themselves in an early hole off the back of three tries inside the opening 10 minutes for the home side, and couldn't claw their way back in the end despite an improved second half.
The loss of fullback Logen Dillon to a suspected broken hand in the opening moments of the game proved critical for the visitors, but captain Curtis Wilson was impressive in shifting to the back and offered plenty throughout the game.
Wayne Lambkin's side continued to show great resilience against a mounting penalty count, but didn't have enough in the end to match it with the hosts — going down by four points in the end.
Having won their previous five matches to keep themselves in finals contention, the loss sees Wests Tigers finish one point outside the top eight in ninth.
Kayal Iro got the hosts off to the perfect start when he won the race to a clever kick from Casey Smith to score inside the opening two minutes, and that try would set the tone for a dominant opening stanza for the home side.
Eliesa Katoa would burrow over from dummy half after nine minutes to double his side's lead, before Israel Ogden crossed for one of the finest tries of the season — brushing off several defenders to score — to continue the hosts' bright start.
Emanuel Tuimavave-Gerard had no problems adding the extras, with the Warriors in front of the clock early with a deserved 18-0 lead over the visitors.
Starved of possession in the opening 15 minutes, Wests Tigers would eventually get on the board after 20 minutes when captain Curtis Wilson showed his class to wrap around the other side of the field and send Kane Bradley over with a long ball.
Wilson would go within a whisker of grabbing his side's second soon after when he broke free after some clever work from Bennett Wheelhouse, but a desperate ankle tap would deny the captain from helping his side reduce the lead further.
Beginning the second half much the same they started the first, the Warriors looked destined to extend their lead after 42 minutes when Tuimavave-Gerard spun his way through the defence but dropped the ball over line in his attempt.
The hosts would get a near identical chance just five minutes later when Tom Ale broke free down the right, and the forward would make no mistake to restore his side's three-try lead and seemingly put the game beyond doubt.
Quiet throughout the opening half, Gus Garzaniti would add a vital contribution with a no-look short pass sending Henry Lealuga-Puhotau over untouched, with Wheelhouse converting to cut the lead to two tries with 15 minutes still remaining.
A standout for Wests Tigers all day after shifting to the back, Wilson would set the match up for a grandstand finish when he proved too strong close to the line, with Wheelhouse unable to convert from out wide to take the scoreline to 22-14.
With their season on the line, Wests Tigers continued to throw everything at the Warriors and would put several hearts in mouths when Ben Seufale crossed with two minutes to go to give the visitors an incredible late shot to win.
As the siren sounded, Wests Tigers would have one final chance and looked to have done the impossible with Shondre Lee-Silva diving over, but the final pass was called forward to give the Warriors the win and end the visitors' finals hopes.
New Zealand Warriors 22 (Iro, Katoa, Ogden, Ale tries; Tuimavave-Gerard 3/4 goals) def. Wests Tigers 18 (Bradley, Lealuga-Puhotau, Wilson, Seufale tries; Wheelhouse 1/4 goals) at Mount Smart Stadium
Fullback for Warriors is number 1 Emanuel Tuimavave-GerrardFullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Logen Dillon
Winger for Warriors is number 22 Harley MaynardWinger for Wests Tigers is number 20 Kane Bradley
Centre for Warriors is number 3 Kayal IroCentre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Zac Cini
Centre for Warriors is number 5 Edward KosiCentre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Curtis Wilson
Winger for Warriors is number 20 Israel OgdenWinger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Shondre Lee-Silva
Five-Eighth for Warriors is number 4 Casey SmithFive-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Bennett Wheelhouse
Halfback for Warriors is number 7 Sione MoalaHalfback for Wests Tigers is number 19 Gus Garzaniti
Prop for Warriors is number 8 Junior PuaProp for Wests Tigers is number 8 Henry Lealuga-Puhotau
Hooker for Warriors is number 9 Taniela OtukoloHooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Rua Ngatikaura
Prop for Warriors is number 10 Eliesa KatoaProp for Wests Tigers is number 17 Michael Fenn
2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Tom Ale2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Daniel Sykes
2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Isaiah Vagana2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Ben Seufale
Lock for Warriors is number 13 Brody TamaruaLock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Jordan Main
Interchange for Warriors is number 14 Temple KalepoInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 10 Sione Tupou
Interchange for Warriors is number 15 Toni TupouniuaInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 15 Bryn Callaghan
Interchange for Warriors is number 16 Jyris GlamuzinaInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Kobe Chamberlain
Interchange for Warriors is number 18 Michael lemafaInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 18 Lucas Castle