It was easily their best performance of the 2014 season, but it wasn't enough for the Newcastle Knights who suffered a 28-20 loss against the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park on Monday night.
In a fast-paced and physical contest, the Knights showed enormous courage to push the Storm with only 16 players in the second half, due to an injury to forward Alex McKinnon.
McKinnon was taken from the field on a stretcher in the closing stages of the first half and was taken to hospital for precautionary x-rays. As soon as there is more information, the Club will provide an update.
While Newcastle didn't get the result, their effort against the might of Melbourne was certainly encouraging. Tyrone Roberts was strong at halfback with his running and kicking game, while forward Beau Scott and winger Aku Uate never gave up.
The Knights will now return to Newcastle for a crucial round four clash against the Cronulla Sharks on Sunday in a bid to record their first victory of the season.
Newcastle made one positional change prior to kick-off, with David Fa’alogo replacing Willie Mason in the starting front-row.
As a result, Mason dropped back to the bench also featuring Adam Clydsdale after Chris Houston and Travis Waddell played NSW Cup on Saturday.
Melbourne dominated possession in the opening minutes of the match on the back of three consecutive penalties.
Knights skipper Kurt Gidley was penalised in the third minute for a high tackle on Storm prop Bryan Norrie.
Cameron Smith slotted the goal from in front to give the home side an early 2-0 lead.
Newcastle remained calm despite all the early pressure and was rewarded in the 6th minute following a perfectly placed Michael Dobson kick.
Dobson’s grubber hit the goal posts and rebounded for lock Jeremy Smith to pick up the loose ball and score.
Gidley converted from close range to put the Knights in front 6-2 after eight minutes.
On the back of this four-pointer, Newcastle lifted their intensity in both attack and defence.
Winger James McManus looked to have finished off a strong backline move in the 13th minute, but dropped the ball over the line.
The Knights may have missed out on that try scoring opportunity, but they extended their lead to 8-2 in the 18th minute via a Gidley penalty goal from 25 metres out.
Newcastle looked in control on the back of their strong defence, but it was the Storm who hit back in the 23rd minute thanks to a Sisa Waqa try.
Waqa picked up a drop ball from centre Joey Leilua to run 40 metres down the sideline and score.
Smith converted to reduce the Knights’ lead to 8-6 after 24 minutes.
Fuelled by the momentum of their opening try, Melbourne moved the ball wide in the following set.
It was a move that worked wonders for the Storm, who forced a repeat set on Newcastle following a strong Cooper Cronk kick.
This allowed back-rower Kevin Proctor to score in the 29th minute, with Cronk putting on a pass for the big Kiwi to barge over from 20 metres out.
Smith converted to put Melbourne in front 12-8 with 10 minutes left in the first half.
The Storm then crossed for their third try in 10 minutes in the next set when centre Will Chambers finished off a backline move to score in the eastern corner.
Smith missed the kick from the sideline, but it was Melbourne in control leading 18-8 with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon was taken from the field on a stretcher in the final minutes of the first stanza and went to hospital for precautionary x-rays.
Newcastle received the penalty and Tyrone Roberts made no mistakes from 25 metres out to reduce the Storm’s lead to 18-10 at the halftime break.
Melbourne opened the scoring after just three minutes in the second half, when Cronk put in a pinpoint kick for rookie winger Young Tonumaipea to score.
Smith added the extras to give the Storm a commanding 24-8 lead with 33 minutes left in the match.
Newcastle refused to throw in the towel though and crossed in the 50th minute following a brilliant cross-field kick from Roberts for winger Aku Uate to plant the ball down in the corner.
Roberts kicked the conversion from the sideline to give the Knights some hope trialling 24-16 with 28 minutes remaining.
While Newcastle started to build some confidence, it was Melbourne who had a chance to extend their advantage in the 56th minute via Tonumaipea.
However, the Storm flyer couldn't convert the opportunity because he was ruled to have put his arm on the sideline before touching the ball down.
Melbourne's misfortune ended up being a blessing for the Knights, who scored in the 60th minute via Uate.
The flying Fijian finished off a quality move by Newcastle, which included brilliant passes from Dobson and Gagai.
Newcastle were starting to gain some control of the match, but Storm skipper Cameron Smith ensured this was short lived when he barged over from close range in the 66th minute.
Smith missed the conversion with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Newcastle fullback Matt Minto made a crucial knock-on in the 74th minute returning the ball, but the men in red and blue held on with some strong defence on their own line.
But in the end, it was the Storm that proved too strong on the back of their big names Cronk, Slater and Smith.
Newcastle Knights 20 (T: Uate 2, Smith, G: Gidley 2/3, Roberts 2/2)
Melbourne Storm 28 (T: Waqa, Proctor, Chambers, Tonumaipea, Smith, G: Smith 4/6)