With inspirational injured teammate Alex McKinnon in the grandstand proudly watching on, the Newcastle Knights fittingly delivered a spirited display in a hard fought 22-8 loss to the Gold Coast Titans at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
In a match played with plenty of emotion in RiseForAlex Round, the Knights fought hard but proved no match for a slick Titans side.
The men in red and blue trailed 12-0 at the break, but refused to give in with two second half tries to make a contest of the game.
It was the Titans, however, who proved two strong on the back of a determined effort to collect the two competition points.
Fullback Darius Boyd was a standout for the home side, while Willie Mason, Jeremy Smith and Tyrone Roberts all impressed on the day.
The Knights will look to rebound when they host the Sydney Roosters at Hunter Stadium on Friday night.
Newcastle made two forced changes prior to kick-off.
Jake Mamo replaced James McManus (foot) on the wing, while Adam Cuthbertson came in for Chris Houston (knee).
It was a highly emotional start to proceedings with Alex McKinnon honoured in front of a strong crowd.
Inspired by the electric atmosphere, the Knights started the match full of enthusiasm and commitment.
The only downside was fullback Darius Boyd leaving the field with concussion after just two minutes.
Boyd momentarily retreated to the sideline, before returning to the field minutes later.
Gold Coast looked to have crossed for the opening try after 10 minutes via Brad Takaiarangi but the five-eighth was denied after losing control of the ball.
The Titans were running with plenty of vigour and were first to score after 19 minutes through winger Anthony Don.
Winger Kevin Gordon added the extras to give the away side an early 6-0 lead.
Newcastle kept their composure though and led by some impressive backing up from Boyd, the men in red and blue slowly worked their way back into the contest.
The Gold Coast were proving elusive with the ball in hand though, while the Knights kept hurting themselves with repeated errors.
This allowed the Titans to extend their lead after 32 minutes through barnstorming forward turned centre Dave Taylor.
Gordon converted from in front to give his side a comfortable 12-0 buffer with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
The Knights received two great chances to hit back in the closing stages of the first half, but couldn’t convert and went to the halftime break trailing 12-0.
Newcastle had the dream start to the second half when they gained possession from a short kick-off. This gave the Knights quality field position, but the Titans held on thanks to some desperate defence.
Repeated mistakes from both sides dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second stanza, as the match slipped into a real slug fest in the wet weather.
The Titans extended their lead after 53 minutes via back-rower Mark Minichiello, who finished off a slick team try by the Queensland-based side.
Gordon missed the conversion, but it was the away side with a commanding 16-0 lead with 24 minutes left on the clock.
Knights skipper Kurt Gidley left the field with a groin strain in the second half and didn't return. The men in red and blue kept fighting though and crossed for their first try after 62 minutes through centre Joey Leilua.
Roberts' conversion hit the upright and was waved away, but the home side was back in the match trailing 16-4.
The Titans then gifted Newcastle field position from the restart when they kicked the ball out on the full. This gave the Knights a great chance to score via Boyd, but the fullback lost control of the ball over the line.
Newcastle refused to go away though and crossed again after 70 minutes via replacement hooker Tyrone Roberts, who dragged three Gold Coast defenders over the line to score.
Roberts missed the conversion from the sideline, but the Knights were back in the match at 16-8.
The Titans capped off a hard fought win in the dying stages with a try to centre James Roberts.