The Wests Tigers remain in touch with the Telstra Premiership top-eight following a 25-16 win against the Newcastle Knights, who lost co-captain Mitchell Pearce to another injury early in the second half.
It was a disappointing night for Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Herman Ese'ese, who were making their 250th and 50th appearances respectively.
An error-riddled performance in the first half provided too many attacking opportunities Ivan Cleary's men, who led 16-4 at the break and by full-time moved within two points of the eighth-placed Warriors.
The Knights could not have asked for a worse start, with Ken Sio kicking the ball beyond the dead-ball line from the whistle. The following set of six and the Tigers received a penalty and Esan Marsters gave the visitors a 2-0 lead after as many minutes.
Match: Knights v Wests Tigers
Round 21 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Even the key playmakers for both sides were doing it tough in the opening stages, with Benji Marshall and Mitchell Pearce both making uncharacteristic errors.
But it was some lazy defence from the Novocastrians that led to the opening try, as two players fell off Russell Packer, allowing him to power over the line.
Down 8-0 Newcastle were quick to hit back when Kalyn Ponga went for a run down the short-side. A Pearce cross-field kick was claimed by Sione Mata'utia to score the first points for the home side.
Poor discipline from Newcastle led to another Tigers penalty goal, and then it was a case of history repeating as Sio kicked the ball dead again from the restart.
Having a stiff breeze behind him didn't help but worse was yet to come for the winger, who was sin-binned after repeated ruck infringements. Again Marsters opted for the shot at goal, which extended the lead back to eight points.
While the Tigers could not capitalise on the extra man for the 10-minute period, Luke Brooks crossed in the dying stages of the first half to give his side a two converted try lead at the break.
Poor handling was proving costly for the Knights, who completed just 56 per cent in the opening 40 minutes. It wasn't long before they were dealt another major blow with star half Pearce leaving the field (42nd minute) with a corked thigh, which ended his night.
At the same time there was another scare for the hosts, with Ponga needing treatment on his shoulder after Sauaso Sue was placed on report for raising the knee while running at the fullback.
With all the pressure on Newcastle, it was only a matter of time before the Tigers pounced again, with veteran Robbie Farah strolling through the defensive line with ease, for an 18-point lead.
The visitors were carving up the defence at will and could have had another try, only for Corey Thompson to step on the sideline as he was grounding the ball.
A rare error from Moses Mbye allowed the Knights an attacking opportunity, and Ponga's speed and agility was too much as he scored his side's second try of the night. Elijah Taylor was placed on report for an attempted trip during the play.
That try sparked the Hunter-based club to life, with Aidan Guerra storming over to make it back to back tries, and reduce the margin to six (22-16).
But with five minutes remaining, Brooks put the icing on the cake for the Tigers, slotting a field goal, before Marsters pushed the final margin to nine with his fourth penalty goal of the night.
News & Notes: Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall has now won six of his past seven games against the Knights... Winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall received his 250th NRL game jersey from former Knight and Kiwis teammate Jeremy Smith... the Knights now play the Warriors, while the Tigers head to Canberra.