The NSW Cup Newcastle Knights lost 20-18 to the Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon, showing plenty of character in the two-point loss.
The side had several forced changes, with Danny Levi coming in for Chad Redman (NRL) and Dylan Phythian replacing Jaelen Feeney (injury) in the halves.
Winger Honeti Tuha was a highlight for the home side with plenty of dangerous runs and scoring a hat-trick.
The Knights didn't start the game particularly well, forward Pat Vaivai juggling and losing the ball 30 metres out from his own line in the the first set.
The Tigers couldn't capitalise though, and two minutes later Jake Mamo nearly made them pay when he found some space on the left wing 60 metres out. Tigers fullback Tim Moltzen did well to close him down though, and Mamo's attempted chip went out of play.
With 13 minutes played Tigers lock Breden Santi dropped the ball, giving the Knights a scrum fifteen metres out.
It only took one play to score from there, Nathan Ross breaking a tackle to tumble over the line. Cup debutant Phythian nailed the conversion to give the Knights a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers looked like scoring ten minutes later from a towering kick, but with centre Nathan Milone looming Carlos Tuimavave got a toe to the ball to prod it out.
The Knights scored again in the 25th minute, this time when Ross played the ball from dummy half for Honeti Tuha to cross over in the left corner. Phythian was unable to convert from the sideline to leave the score at 10-0.
With seven minutes left in the first half the Tigers finally registered their first points, forward Lamar Liolevave capitalising on a a raft of Knights errors to cross over near the uprights. Josh Drinkwater added the extras to make it 10-6.
The Knights kicked the ball dead from the restart, gifting the Tigers the platform to score another try via John Sila. Drinkwater's kick from the sideline sailed wide, keeping the scores even at 10-10 when the half-time siren sounded.
The Tigers continued their series of attacking plays in the second half, fullback Moltzen breaking through the line to feed lock Santi, who returned the pass twenty meters down the field to give Moltzen an easy try beneath the uprights. Drinkwater added the extras from straight in front to give the away side a 16-10 lead with 37 minutes to play.
The Tigers continued to press hard but the Knights held on despite multiple sets on their own line. To make matters worse for the men in red and blue, backline weapons Chanel Mata'utia and Nathan Ross were forced off the field with injuries.
There was no stopping Tuha in the 47th minute though when Levi placed a grubber from dummy-half that evaded the defensive line and found the left winger for his second try of the afternoon. Phythian was unable to convert from out wide though, leaving the score poised at 16-14.
It looked like there was no stopping the Tigers' Santi in the 64th minute when he crossed over on the back of three rapid penalties, but the referee ruled double movement and the Knights escaped.
In their very next set they looked like scoring down the left side as Lachlan Fitzgibbon slipped through the line, but his pass to Tuha was slightly off and the winger couldn't wrap it up.
The Knights had another bite at the cherry soon after when Joseph Tapine put on a crunching tackle on Moltzen that resulted in a knock-on from the fullback ten metres out from his own line.
Levi came desperately close to scooting over from dummy-half, but in the next play Mamo's pass was off target and the Tigers were let off the hook.
Despite the Knights making the majority of the attacking plays it was the Tigers who scored next, centre Milone weaving his way through several defenders to score with three minutes left on the clock. Drinkwater failed to make the conversion and the score stayed at 20-14 to give the Knights a glimmer of hope.
The men in red and blue went for a short kick-off and it paid off when they grabbed ahold of it and Tuha scored his third in the left corner. With Phythian's sideline conversion make or break for the Knights, the young halfback's kick just edged wide to leave the final score at 20-18.
Newcastle Knights 18 (T: Ross, Tuha 3; G: Phythian 1/4)
Wests Tigers 20 (T: Liolevave, Sila, Moltzen, Milone, G: Drinkwater 2/4)
Mamo, Tuha, Ross, P Mata’utia, C Mata’utia, Tuimavave, Phythian, Mataora, Levi, Vaivai, Fitzgibbon, Newton (c), Tapine. Bench: Tupou, Filipo, Finn, Dow-Nikau.