The NYC Newcastle Knights have won the Holden Cup minor premiership with an impressive 36-26 victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
Stakes were always going to be high with both teams in contention for the minor premiership, but the Knights proved too strong for the Dragons.
Five-eighth Brock Lamb was brought into the side to replace his injured SG Ball teammate Jack Cogger (ankle) and stamped himself on the game with a double and a number of assists.
Bryce Donovan also shifted to fullback after Jake Mamo was ruled out of the match with a back injury.
The Knights defence was relentless in the opening stages with both teams not venturing far from centre field.
Joseph Tapine was presented with the Knights’ first opportunity but lost the ball over the line.
It was then the Dragons who opened the scoring with a try to Addin Fonua-Blake. Shannon Crook added the extras to bring the Dragons a 6-0 lead in the 10th minute.
The Knights responded swiftly with a try to back-rower Lachlan Fitsgibbon who powered over the line off a ball from Brock Lamb.
Bryce Donovan nailed the conversion to level the score 6-6.
The Dragons came close again making it over the line but a fortunate knock-on saw the Knights back in attack.
Brock Lamb played his part in another try when Bryce Donovan stumped the defence with a dummy to crash over the line in the 21st minute.
Donovan took his contribution to six points successfully making the kick to bring the Knights lead to 12-6.
In what seemed like a case of de ja vu, Brock Lamb recreated Donovan’s earlier dummy on the left side of the field to score his own try and also adding the extras to see the Dragons trail 18-6 in the 23rd minute.
Lamb then scored a double off a well place ball from Tuiala Togitisi. Donovan’s kicking game was in form to see the Knights lead stretch to 24-6 in the 30th minute of the match.
After a Dragon’s penalty in the Knights half, Newcastle opted for a penalty goal with Donovan adding two points to bring the Knights score to 26-6 with six minutes to go in the first half.
In what was to be the fifth try of the day, Chance Peni made it over the line out wide, but was overruled when contested by the Dragons.
So the Knights headed to the sheds with a strong 20-point lead.
The Knights opened the first half with boisterous enthusiasm and made it over the line twice but both efforts were disallowed.
A Knights error saw the Dragons soon capitalise with a uncontested try to Jack Kavanagh with Crook adding the extras to bring the score to 26-12 in the 50th minute.
Peni was in for a dose of redemption after an earlier disallowed try running a solid 70 metres to score with Donovan’s kick again adding points to bring the Knights to a 32-12 lead.
The Dragons came up against a solid red and blue brick wall with five sets sets on their line with a number consecutive errors from the visitors extinguishing the chance to score.
An intercept by Dragon’s winger Modceidreke saw him snatch an 80-metre try after a spirited chase by both Fitzgibbon and Tapine.
The Dragons failed to make the kick with the Knights still leading 32-16.
The Knights weren’t done with scoring points with forward Joe Boyce busting over the line with Donovan missing the kick with 10 minutes to go in the match.
The Dragons returned fire with a try in the corner to Moceidreke and shortly after another try to fullback Matt Dufty.
But the Knights were rewarded, finishing the game with a 36-26 win to claim the minor premiership.
The Knights now face the Dragons again in week one of the Holden Cup finals, next Saturday at Allianz Stadium (venue still to confirm).
Newcastle Knights 36 (T: Lamb 2, Fitzgibbon, Donovan, Peni, Boyce, G: Donovan 5/6, P: Donovan 1/1)
St George Illawarra Dragons 26 (T: Moceidreke 2, Fonua-Blake, Kavanagh, Duffy, G: Crook 3/5)
Donovan, Robson, Smith, Peni, Birch, Lamb, Feeney, Pakau, Levi (c), Yates, Fitzgibbon, Tapine, Boyce. Bench: De Saxe, Petterson-Robati, Togitasi, Taylor.