Wests Tigers denied the Vodafone Warriors any season-ending joy when they triumphed 28-16 in tonight's 26th-round NRL encounter at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.
It left the Vodafone Warriors to rue a campaign which opened with victory over Newcastle in March but was ultimately distinguished by disappointment and setbacks, ending tonight with a ninth consecutive loss.
Already stripped of so many experienced players, the Vodafone Warriors lost seasoned centre Blake Ayshford with a hand injury in the opening moments of the contest, bringing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad into action from the bench with an unwanted interchange.
Both sides were quick to try to express themselves with the Tigers going close but stopped by some great defensive scrambling by the Vodafone Warriors.
They couldn't resist a second time, though, when a Luke Brooks chip in behind the defensive line sat up for centre Kevin Naiqama to score, Tuimoala Lolohea converting for a 6-0 lead.
A Brooks bomb to the right provided a second scoring chance for the home side soon after but the bunker found a knock-on in the contest for the ball.
Desperate Vodafone Warriors defence came to the fore again to halt Brooks and Jack Littlejohn in consecutive tackles. The Tigers won a penalty and again the visitors were superb defensively, forcing an error to earn a passage out of their own end.
In the 25th minute they should have had some payback for their defensive efforts.
Mason Lino chipped to the right, David Fusitu'a rose, claimed the ball and went over but the would-be try was sent to the bunker as no try. The suspicion was correct, Fusitu'a losing control trying to put the ball down for what would have been his 13th try of the season. The failure to execute hurt, as it has done throughout the campaign.
The Tigers made ground returning the football and, on the last tackle, Lolohea created space on the right for centre Esan Marsters to spear through the defensive line. Lolohea's conversion was wide leaving the Tigers 10-0 ahead after 28 minutes.
From the restart there was further disruption for the Vodafone Warriors with interchange prop Charlie Gubb taken off for a head injury assessment; he had been on for just nine minutes and wouldn't return, leaving the side with just two fit players on the bench.
Not a lot was going right and worse was to come when the Vodafone Warriors were again on attack but allowed the Tigers to break out and lay on a dazzling long-range try finished by Lolohea. He also converted for a 16-0 lead.
The signs were ominous but right on halftime there was a glimmer of hope.
From a penalty they worked up the middle and then headed left before being checked near the line. Solomone Kata jumped into dummy half and, as is his wont, he had a shot from dummy half. There were defenders on him but he wrestled free to get the ball down, Issac Luke converting with a ricochet off the far post.
The sense was the Vodafone Warriors needed to be first to score in the4 second half - and they should have done so. A Hingano kick bounced awkwardly but Ken Maumalo couldn't gather it and another chance was lost.
Once again it was costly. The Tigers won a penalty on the way back downfield, the Vodafone Warriors unable to defend the repeat set as a loose pass found its way to Naiqama for his second try; Lolohea converted splendidly from wide out for a 22-6 advantage.
It was now critical for the Vodafone Warriors to score. They did, with a beautifully-worked set play in the 51st minute.
Hingano flung the ball left, Ryan Hoffman delightfully tapping it back inside where Roger Tuivasa-Sheck collected to scoot through for his 10th try of the season. Luke was on target to bring the score-line back to 12-22.
Possession was coming the Vodafone Warriors' way as was field position. Pressure was being built and with it came what should have been another try, a lovely kick threaded through the line by Lino but Fusitu'a couldn't quite control it again in grounding the ball.
There was pressure at the other end to defend their line. They did it once cleaning up an ineffective Lolohea kick and then mopped up a Brooks kick but conceded a goal-line dropout. More defence needed on the line and the Vodafone Warriors delivered once more in the repeat set.
They cleared out well from their end, finding room on their right for Nicoll-Klokstad but the play broke down when he couldn't connect with an intended left-footed centre kick.
The try the Vodafone Warriors needed and wanted simply wouldn't come and, almost inevitably, the Tigers put the match out of reach with a David Nofoaluma try in the 74th minute. Lolohea converted and at 28-12 the Vodafone Warriors were consigned to their ninth consecutive defeat.
For all the disappointment they'd endured throughout the year they at least finished with a flourish, Fusitu'a breaking clear and flicking out a wonderful off load for Nicoll-Klokstad to score his seventh try of the year.
Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Wests Tigers 28 (Kevin Naiqama 2, Esan Marsters, Tuimoala Lolohea, David Nofoaluma tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 4 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 16 (Solomone Kata, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad tries; Issac Luke 2 conversions).
Halftime: 16-6 Tigers.
Referees: Adam Gee and Peter Gough.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Mason Lino; Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Sam Lisone; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Charlie Gubb, Isaiah Papali'i, Jazz Tevaga, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.