The Newcastle Knights had their chances to beat the Canberra Raiders, but were unlucky in a close 26-20 loss at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night.
The Knights led 20-16 with just 15 minutes remaining in the match, but it was the Raiders who surged home on the back of two late tries to record the win.
Despite the loss, halfback Tyrone Roberts and debutant fullback Matt Minto were standouts for the Knights.
While Newcastle didn't get the result, they can take plenty of heart out of their effort.
The Knights named recruit Matt Minto at fullback for the clash, with skipper Kurt Gidley moving back to hooker and Travis Waddell to the bench.
Minto showed some early nerves on debut by misjudging a Canberra kick, but he recovered to make a strong charge.
The Raiders received the first attacking opportunity after just five minutes as a result of a Knights’ forward pass.
Five-eighth Terry Campese put in a nicely timed kick for centre Jarrod Croker to swoop and open the scoring in the 7th minute.
Fullback Anthony Milford added the extras to give the Raiders an early 6-0 lead.
Newcastle hit back in the 14th minute via Minto, who showed his versatility with a brilliant cut-out pass for winger Aku Uate to run 30 metres down the sideline and score.
Gidley missed the conversion, but the Knights were back in the game trialling 6-4.
As a result of the try, Newcastle started to build some momentum through forwards Willie Mason and Kade Snowden.
Canberra looked to have taken the lead in the 17th minute via Croker, who climbed above Minto to plant the ball down.
However, after going up to the video referee it was ruled no try due to a knock-on.
It was a fortunate result for the Knights, who scored in the next set thanks to a surging 35-metre run from back-rower Beau Scott.
Gidley converted to give the home side a 10-6 lead after 20 minutes.
Canberra refused to give up though and crossed minutes later to lock the scores at 10-all when replacement utility Josh McCrone made a darting run from dummy half to expose the Knights’ defence.
The Raiders had a number of attacking opportunities in the next 10 minutes, but Newcastle repelled them with some strong defence.
The home side were given a penalty in the 37th minute when former Knight Joel Edwards was penalised for an off-the-ball tackle on Chris Houston.
This gave Newcastle some invaluable field possession, but they were unable to convert due to an error.
Canberra were full of running as the halftime break loomed and looked dangerous with Campese running at the line.
But the Knights’ defence held strong to go to the halftime break with the scores locked at 10-all.
Newcastle got the first attacking chance of the second half following a mistake from Canberra replacement forward Paul Vaughan.
The Knights' applied plenty of pressure on the Raiders, but a forward pass proved costly with the team deep on attack.
This gave Canberra good field possession for Croker to back up a strong run from Milford and run 35 metres to score under the posts.
Milford kicked the conversion to give the Raiders a 16-10 lead with 26 minutes remaining.
Canberra were starting to dominate the match, but Newcastle kept fighting and were rewarded in the 60th minute.
Roberts put in a neat little grubber for winger James McManus to dive on the loose ball and score. Gidley converted to lock the scores at 16-all with 20 minutes left in the game.
On the back of the try, Newcastle's confidence started to grow and Roberts gave the Knights the lead in the 65th minute with an impressive solo effort.
The No.7 picked off a great pass by centre Joey Leiliua to run 30 metres and score in the eastern corner.
Gidley missed the conversion, but the home side held a slender 20-16 advantage with 14 minutes on the clock.
Canberra refused to give in though and crossed two minutes later through Vaughan, who finished off a great team try.
Milford added the extras to give the Raiders a two-point lead with just 10 minutes remaining.
Canberra had a chance to finish off the match in the 75th minute following a Jack Wighton 40/20, but couldn't convert due to an Edrick Lee knock-on.
Lee then went from villain to hero three minutes later when he crossed out wide after a Minto mistake. Milford missed the kick, but it was the Raiders who held on to win a tight match 26-20.
Newcastle Knights 20 (T: Uate, Scott, McManus, Roberts, G: Gidley 2/4)
Canberra Raiders 26 (T: Croker 2, McCrone, Lee, G: Milford 3/5) defeat Knights 20 (T: Uate, Scott, McManus, Roberts, G: Gidley 2/4)