WESTS Tigers lived to fight another day with a 25-16 win at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night that left the Newcastle Knights looking towards next season.
The Tigers moved to within two points of the eighth-placed Warriors, who face a crunch game against St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Saturday.
Newcastle, meanwhile, are now three wins adrift of the eight with four rounds remaining and appear likely to finish the season somewhere between 10th and 12th – a vast improvement after three successive wooden spoons.
But the Tigers held their nerve at the death and iced the win with a 75th-minute field goal by man-of-the-match Luke Brooks.
“We had no right, really, to be in that game at the end,” Guerra said.
“It’s obviously disappointing that we couldn’t come up with it, but the signs are there and the effort’s there.
“The football is certainly in us, so we’ll just keep moving forward and try and do it better.”
Brown was left ruing “fundamental errors” but was pleased with the spirit his players showed during their second-half revival, when young tyros Ponga and Jack Cogger took control.
“We’re not a bad footy team at the moment,” Brown said. “We’re on the ladder where we are for reasons, but we’re not far away from being a good team … we’re certainly a far better team than we were last year.”
Tigers coach Ivan Cleary said his team “made it harder for ourselves than we should have”, partly because they too lost their key playmaker, after veteran Benji Marshall suffered a calf injury.
The progress both teams have made this season is remarkable, given that 12 months ago they were involved in a dog-eat-dog battle to avoid the spoon.
Now the Tigers appear a genuine chance of sneaking into the play-offs.
They led 16-4 at half-time on Friday after tries by prop Russell Packer and Brooks, then increased their led to 18 points when hooker Robbie Farah scored early in the second half.
But with 18,561 fans behind them, the Knights rallied and made it a six-point ball game with 15 minutes to play.
Despite running into a stiff breeze, the Tigers dominated the first half.
Newcastle’s cause was not helped by two kick-offs from winger Ken Sio that went dead on the full, and a holding-down penalty that earned Sio 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
The visitors opened the scoring with an Esan Marsters penalty goal in the second minute, and 13 minutes later Packer broke through a flimsy Lachlan Fitzgibbon tackle to post his first try of the season.
The Knights hit back six minutes later when Pearce kicked across-field and centre Sione Mata’utia caught cleanly to plunge over and score.
Two more penalty goals from Marsters added to the pressure on Newcastle, and then a minute before the interval, Brooks dummied and stepped his way to leave Newcastle facing a 12-point deficit.
The only concern for the Tigers was a calf injury that forced Marshall to leave the field 10 minutes before full-time and seek an ice pack.