The Newcastle Knights suffered a 24-20 loss to the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday afternoon in a game that went to the final play.
Injuries hindered the Knights' chances of coming away with a win as they started without Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith and Kurt Gidley, and then lost linchpin half Tyrone Roberts in the opening minutes.
Considering the team played without so many key personnel, they performed admirably. Dane Gagai, Tariq Sims, Adam Clydsdale, Jack Stockwell and David Fa'alogo all among the strong performers.
And with the Knights completing 89 per cent of their sets to the Warriors' 68 per cent, they deserved more from their trip across the Tasman.
The Warriors looked to have made a dangerous line break in their first set, but the referee picked up a forward pass in the build up and the Knights found themselves with a penalty only 40 metres out.
Carlos Tuimavave's end of set kick earned his side a repeat set when the Warriors were forced to knock it out of play, but Fa'alogo passed the ball to the opposition two minutes later.
The Knights then lost Roberts with an ankle injury, forcing bench utility Tyler Randell into the halves.
It didn't take the Warriors long to score after that reshuffle, Shaun Johnson cracking the Knights' defence open to give Tuimoala Lolohea an easy try. Johnson added the extras to give the home side a 6-0 lead with barely eight minutes on the clock.
The Warriors were at it again four minutes later when Chad Townsend put up a bomb that Akuila Uate couldn't handle.
Manu Vatuvei flew high over the Fijian winger to score but Johnson's attempted conversion ricocheted off an upright to leave the score at 10-0.
The Knights finally earned a break when Warriors fullback Sam Tomkins dropped the ball from dummy-half in the 15th minute.
A scrum was packed 30 metres out from the Warriors' line and first receiver Dane Gagai showed a clean pair of heels to break through the line and score in the right corner. Randell's kick from the sideline was waved away to keep the score at 10-4.
The Warriors continued to dominate field territory, but it was the Knights who seemed to have scored next when James McManus picked up a loose ball to race 80 metres and dive over.
The referee ruled that Joey Leilua had made early contact in the build-up though, and the Warriors escaped with a penalty 20 metres out from the Knights' line.
Ben Matulino bundled his way over the line in the next set and looked to have been held up by Adam Clydsdale and Tariq Sims, but the referees awarded a try as there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the on field decision.
The Knights refused to give up though, and in the 30th minute Uate received a cut-out ball from Gagai to beat Vatuvei and score in the left corner. Randell's kick again sailed wide from the sideline, leaving the score at 14-8 when the half-time siren sounded.
The second half started with a penalty to the Warriors that gave them a set forty metres out.
Centre Solomone Kata only needed one play to score though, breaking through two tackles to score beneath the uprights. Johnson made the conversion to further extend the Warriors' lead, but it wasn't until the 60th minute that the next serious attacking play came.
Thankfully for the Knights it materialised via a Tuimavave grubber that resulted in Johnson being held up in goal. From the line drop-out Tariq Sims broke through the line and offloaded for McManus to finally get the try he had been looking for.
Randell again found himself attempting a conversion from the sideline, and this time he succeeded as it came on his favoured left side of the field.
With fourteen minutes to play and the scores poised at 20-14, a Johnson kick ricocheted off Tuimavave and went dead, giving the Knights a set 40 metres out.
Tuimavave's end of set grubber fell into the arms of Tomkins though, and with the help of a penalty the Warriors rolled up the other end of the field to score via Johnaton Wright. Johnson's kick again went wide, but in what was becoming an end-to-end competition the Knights only took four minutes to grab some more points of their own.
It was Uate that bagged his second try of the afternoon in the 74th minute when he managed to plant the ball over the line in the middle of a tackle. Gagai took up kicking duties this time and did well to curl the ball between the posts with his favoured left foot, pushing the score to 24-20.
The Knights continued to fight desperately in the five minutes remaining, but the Warriors clung on to win 24-20.
Newcastle Knights 20 (T: Gagai, Uate 2, McManus, G: Randell 1/3, Gagai: 1/1)
New Zealand Warriors 24 (T: Lolohea, Vatuvei, Matulino, Kata, Wright, G: Johnson 2/5)