In an end-to-end battle between the NYC reigning premiers and minor premiers, the Newcastle Knights came out 41-16 winners over the New Zealand Warriors in perfect conditions on Saturday afternoon at Hunter Stadium.
The young Knights put in a promising performance that bodes well for the season ahead, despite losing such heavyweights as Jake Mamo, James Taylor, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Joseph Tapine to NSW Cup.
The Knights started poorly however, dropping the ball and conceding a penalty 20-metres out from their own line in quick succession.
Warriors winger Tomas Aoake made them pay, barging over in the left corner with only three minutes played. Mafoa'aeata Hingano was unable to convert from the sideline, the score 4-0.
Aoake came close again two minutes later, collecting a towering bomb only to be bustled out of play by the Knights' defence.
The young Knights were struggling to find any sort of attacking impetus, even though their opponents were gifting them multiple penalties.
In the 15th minute the home side finally clicked, co-captain Brock Lamb flicking a ball on for fullback Bryce Donovan to score. Donovan's kick screwed wide, the score poised at 4-4 with 23 minutes to play.
The Knights struck again five minutes later, Donovan directing a grubber down the left side for centre Josh Birch to pounce onto. Donovan was unerring in his conversion this time for the Knights to lead 10-4.
The Warriors didn't take long to retaliate, fullback Brad Abbey breaking through the centre to give Hingano an easy try beneath the uprights. Hingano again added the extras, the score 10-10 with twelve minutes to play in the first half.
The Warriors broke the deadlock five minutes later with lock Jazz Tevaga proving too much of a handful through the middle with a penetrating run. Hingano made the score 16-10.
With the Knights were finding themselves with the minority of possession, Birch came to the rescue with his second try on the left edge. Donovan again placed his kick well, the score locked at 16-16 when the half-time siren sounded.
Captain Danny Levi started the scoring in the second half, scooting over from dummy-half with two minutes gone. Donovan continued his solid conversion record, the score now 22-16.
Luke Yates made no mistakes with 12 minutes to play, busting through the middle to run 40 metres and score beneath the uprights. Donovan again converted to make the score 28-16.
Donovan opted for a field goal when given space three minutes later, earning his side a 13-point buffer with six minutes to play.
Lamb showed some individual class in the following set, throwing a dummy to slip through the line and give his side another try. Donovan made it five conversions from six attempts to give the Knights a 35-16 lead.
The Knights weren't done though, Yates crossing over to bag his second of the match with seconds left on the clock. Lamb converted with Donovan succumbing to cramps, for the Knights to record a 41-16 win over the Warriors.
Birch was the major injury concern following the win, he will require scans on his ankle this week.
Newcastle Knights 41 (T: Birch 2, Yates 2, Donovan, Levi, Lamb; G: Donovan 5/6, Lamb 1/1, FG: Donovan 1)
New Zealand Warriors 16
Knights: Donovan, Lam, Birch, Robson, Uta, Lamb, Cogger, King, Levi (c), D Saifiti, Smith, J Saifiti, Yates. Bench: Kelly, Steven, Faitotoa, Stone.
Warriors: Abbey, Aoake, Niukore, Tyrell, Ulberg, Hingano, Clark, Afoa, Roache, Sipley, Ogden, Love-Henry, Tevaga. Bench: Tuli, Tualima, Ioane-Niko, Cooper-Tetevano.