Ivan Cleary’s Wests Tigers outfit have managed to keep within touching distance of the top-eight after a narrow 25-16 win against a spirited and injury-ravaged Newcastle Knights outfit at McDonald Jones Stadium.
A woeful first-half highlighted by a number of key errors by the Knights handed the Tigers a handy 16-4 advantage at the break and despite a better performance in the second stanza from the home side, the visitors would have enough to see the job through and bank two vital competition points.
On a night where the Knights lost key players and failed to give milestone players the right sort of effort, here’s what we learned.
1 Tigers still a chance of finals footy
The Wests Tigers have kept themselves in the race for a top-eight berth with a valuable win in Newcastle which puts them just two points adrift of the eighth-placed New Zealand Warriors.
With the Kiwi-based side in a horrendous form slump, the Tigers have given themselves every opportunity to sneak into the bottom of the eight and, given their record against the better side in the league so far this year, that may well trouble one or two teams firmly entrenched at the top end of the competition ladder.
The Tigers can't control the Warriors or how they fare over the next few weeks, but if they manage to keep winning their own games, they'll maintain some serious pressure on the Kiwis and could well earn eighth-place when it is all said and done.
2 Nathan Cleary who?
All the talk over the last few weeks has been about a possible reunion between father and son Ivan and Nathan Cleary at the Wests Tigers in 2020 and while I'm not ruling out that sensational switch, it was great to see current halfback Luke Brooks respond to the rumours with a fine display on Friday night.
Brooks has played some good footy over the last few weeks, especially in wins over the Bunnies and Dragons, but he was very much in charge of the direction and attack for the Tigers against Newcastle and played a key role in grabbing the two points on the night.
As a game we've been waiting to see Brooks reach his potential for some time and while I'm not suggesting a handful of good games make him a superstar, if he can maintain his good showings and find an elusive level of consistency, there's almost no reason to poach million-dollar man Nathan Cleary at all.
3 Poor ball handling costs Newcastle dearly
Having already beaten the Wests Tigers in 2018, Nathan Brown and his coaching staff would have earmarked this game as a good opportunity to grab another victory and build some momentum heading into the final few weeks of the season.
Unfortunately, for much of the contest, and a horror first-half, the players did not look up to the idea of overcoming the Tigers at all.
After the worst possible start to a game with Ken Sio managing to kick the ball out on the full from kick-off, things didn't improve much at all across the first 40 minutes of play and it would ultimately cost the Knights any real chance of grabbing a handy win at home.
Some uncharacteristically poor ball control from Mitchell Pearce and ill-discipline would put the final nails in the coffin and ensure the Tigers would end the night on a happy note.
4 Major injury concerns for Brown and Newcastle
Practically all of Newcastle's good football in 2018 has come with halfback Mitchell Pearce on the field and while they rallied strongly after his 42nd minute exit with a corked thigh on Friday night, Nathan Brown and Newcastle fans everywhere will be sweating on the fitness of their star playmaker over the next few weeks to the end of the season.
The nasty quadricep injury forced Pearce off the field for the second time this season and pushed fullback Kalyn Ponga into a more controlling halfback role for the remainder of the contest.
Ponga finished out the game strongly despite copping a nasty knock to the chest from a knee himself, but the fitness of Mitchell Pearce will play a major role in how well or how poorly the Knights play out the rest of the 2018 campaign, such is his value to the side.
While it's far too early to make any calls, there's already some doubt Pearce will be able to take his place in the side next week when the Knights tackle the Warriors.
5 Tigers also monitoring fitness of veteran playmaker
As they do everything they can to keep themselves in the hunt for finals footy, coach Ivan Cleary will be sweating on the fitness of veteran five-eighth Benji Marshall after the former Kiwi international limped from the field with a little over 10 minutes left on the clock on Friday night.
Marshall made his way to the touchline in the 68th minute and watched the final 12 minutes of action with a bag of ice strapped around his calf, giving Tigers fans a few breathless moments.
Thankfully, the Tigers were able to see out the game and bank the win, but with some tough games and a chance to play sudden-death footy at the end of the season still on the cards for the Tigers, they'll want Benji Marshall back on the field and taking pressure off Luke Brooks as soon as possible.
What did you learn from the Tiger's 25-16 win over the Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium? Let us know in the comments below.
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