The Newcastle Knights NYC team has suffered their second consecutive defeat following a hard fought 34-22 loss to the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.
In a highly entertaining match, the Knights showed plenty of courage but in the end they were out classed by a determined Warriors side on their home turf.
Newcastle trailed 18-0 after 24 minutes but fought hard to reduce the deficit to just six points at the halftime break. The Knights then got within two points midway through the second half but it was the Warriors who finished the stronger.
Halfback James De Saxe performed well for the Knights in a beaten side replacing the injured Jaelen Feeney (ribs), while former Warrior James Taylor also impressed against his former club.
Despite the loss, the Knights remain on top of the Holden Cup ladder after 12 rounds.
They will look to rebound when they host the Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium next Sunday.
Newcastle made a number of positional changes prior to kick-off.
Bryce Donovan was named at fullback to replace Jake Mamo (back), while emerging outside back Brody Lam made his NYC debut on the wing.
Lam, a Kiwi-born talent, was picked by the Club last year after starring in the New Zealand schoolboy rugby union ranks.
It was a scrappy opening to the match with both sides making basic errors.
The Warriors had the first attacking opportunity after nine minutes but couldn’t crack the Knights’ defence.
This changed minutes later when centre Ken Maumalo beat four defenders to score next to the uprights.
Halfback Mason Lino added the extras to give the Warriors an early 6-0 lead.
Newcastle was struggling to build momentum on the back of basic errors.
This allowed the Warriors to control possession and extend their lead after 20 minutes via lock James Bell.
Lino converted from in front to give the home side a comfortable 12-0 lead with 19 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Warriors were full of confidence and crossed again minutes later via fullback Brad Abby.
Lino was again faultless with the boot to make the score 18-0 after just 24 minutes.
Newcastle looked certain to score when centre Sione Mata’utia barged over after 30 minutes but the try was denied due to a forward pass.
This bad luck changed five minutes later when prop Tuiala Togiatasi pounced on a perfect grubber from halfback James De Saxe to score.
Donovan converted from in front to reduce the Warriors’ lead to 18-6 with five minutes left in the half.
Newcastle was then gifted a four-pointer to De Saxe after a basic mistake by New Zealand fullback Abby.
Donovan added the extras to make the score 18-12 in the dying stages of the first stanza.
The Knights had a great chance to score again on the stroke of halftime but winger Josh Birch couldn’t hold the ball.
The Warriors had the perfect start to the second half when interchange back Nathaniel Roache scored under the posts after just four minutes.
Lino converted from in front to give the Kiwi side a commanding 24-12 lead with 34 minutes left on the clock.
Newcastle had a great chance to respond minutes later via a probing De Saxe but the halfback was held up over the line.
The Knights remained calm though and hit back after 53 minutes following a determined run by back-rower Joe Tapine.
In an ultra-impressive run to the line, Tapine beat nine players in total to barge over and get his side back in the contest.
Donovan added the extras to reduce the deficit to 24-18 with 26 minutes remaining.
The Warriors refused to give in though and had a great chance to extend their lead minutes later but the Knights held on in defence.
This laid the platform for Newcastle to go up the other end of the field and cross via centre Chance Peni.
Donovan missed the conversion to give the Warriors a slender two-point lead with 19 minutes remaining.
Newcastle were coming home strongly but Warriors captain Lino ensured his side would maintain their lead with a strong try after 63 minutes.
The halfback converted his own try to give the home side a 30-22 lead with 14 minutes remaining.
The Warriors sealed an impressive victory when winger Metia Lisati strolled over with four minutes left in the match.
Donovan, Lam, Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, De Saxe, Taylor, Levi (c), Yates, Tapine, Fitzgibbon, Petterson-Robati. Interchange: Pondekas, King, Pakau, Togiatasi, Smith.
Abby, Ulberg, Hukatai, Maumalo, Lisati, Hingano, Lino (c), Afoa, Robinson, Lisone, Tuimavave-Gerrard, Love-Henry, Bell. Interchange: Roache, Sipley, Ogden, Samson.
Newcastle Knights 22 (T: Togiatasi, De Saxe, Tapine, Peni, G: Donovan 3/4)
Warriors 34 (T: Maumalo, Abbey, Bell, Roache, Lino, Lisati, G: Lino 5/6)