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Wests Tigers have inched within a win of the NRL’s top-eight, prevailing 25-16 over Newcastle in a fluctuating contest.
Probing Tigers playmaker Luke Brooks was the architect against the error-prone Knights on Friday night, scoring one try and setting up another either side of halftime at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce was benched with a badly corked thigh as the hosts looked out of answers early in the second half.
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Instead, down 22-4, they rallied to within six points entering the final 10 minutes before Brooks drilled a field goal to ice the victory.
The Tigers are now just two points behind the eighth-placed NZ Warriors, who meet St George Illawarra in a Saturday clash that now looms large.
“We made it harder for ourselves than we needed to or should have, but anyway … in the end we defended when we needed to and got the job done,” Tigers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“Brooksy was really good, I thought. He ran the ball whenever he could and seemed to be whenever he did that something good happened.”
Newcastle’s sleepy first-half display cost them and was one Ken Sio hopes to wipe from his memory.
The winger started the game by kicking the ball out on the full and then did it again 20 minutes later, only this time the ball flew even further past the dead- ball line.
He was then sin-binned after deliberately slowing down the play the ball after Pearce’s loose pass handed the Tigers possession just metres from the line.
In between Sio’s blemishes, the Tigers scored 10 points, with captain Russell Packer spinning out of a tackle for the game’s opener.
Newcastle replied through Sione Mata’utia before Brooks restored order by skipping through for the easiest of tries and a 16-4 lead at the break.
He then set up Robbie Farah before Kalyn Ponga and Aidan Guerra replied for the Knights to give hope to their 18,561-strong crowd.
But the Tigers steadied when it mattered, scoring the final three points to keep their finals hopes flickering.
“There was one or two guys there that’ll know where they came up short,” Knights coach Nathan Brown said.
“We started to swing the momentum then dropped the ball from the kick-off and the cycle started again.”
Brown said Pearce was in doubt for next week’s trip to Auckland to play the Warriors, while Benji Marshall (calf) also pulled up sore in a concern for the victors.
Wests Tigers 25 (Luke Brooks, Robbie Farah, Russell Packer tries; Esan Marsters 6 goals, Brooks field goal) Newcastle Knights 16 (Aidan Guerra, Sione Mata’utia, Kalyn Ponga tries; Ken Sio 2 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referee: Grant Atkins, Matt Noyen. Crowd: 18,561