The Newcastle Knights went down 44-22 to the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in what was a courageous performance considering the circumstances.
With the likes of Jarrod Mullen, Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden already missing, the Knights then lost forwards Beau Scott and Robbie Rochow early in the match to injury.
With the side reduced to its bare bones the red and blues were defensively fragile but admirably enterprising in attack.
In particular 21-year-old Joe Tapine had a breakout game, terrorising the Broncos' left edge defence with his runs and offloads.
Akuila Uate caught the Broncos' defence off guard from a kick receive in the 4th minute when he broke through the line to run 80 metres.
The Fijian winger was unable to get a pass away to Jake Mamo with defenders looming though, and Darius Boyd tackled him ten metres short of the line.
The Broncos made the Knights pay for that missed opportunity two minutes later when Jordan Kahu put Corey Oates through for a try. Corey Parker did well to convert from the sideline, giving the Broncos a 6-0 lead with nine minutes played.
Things only got worse for the Knights in the 12th minute when Origin representative Scott was forced from the field with a shoulder injury, Tapine coming on earlier than anticipated to replace him.
Not long after Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough took advantage of a dropped ball from Mamo to score next to the uprights, and Parker again converted to double his side's lead.
Seven minutes later Rochow followed Scott down the tunnel with an injury of his own to further decimate the Knights' forward stocks.
It didn't take long for the Broncos to score again after that, Lachlan Maranta strolling over on the right flank. Parker's conversion edged wide but his side scored again two minutes later when Anthony Milford dummied his way through the line to run 50 metres and score.
The game seemed to be unravelling quickly for the Knights, but in the 33rd minute Tapine slipped a ball down the line for Dane Gagai to score. Kurt Gidley's conversion was accurate, pushing the score to 20-6.
Three minutes later Mamo broke through the line and was hauled down inches short, but Uate finished off the job on the next play with some help from a sharp Gidley dummy-half pass. Gidley's attempted conversion bounced off an upright, leaving the score at 20-10 when the teams headed into the sheds for half-time a minute later.
Three minutes into the second half Uate again broke through the line to run fifty metres. 19-year-old hooker Danny Levi was the ultimate beneficiary at the end of the set when he ran from dummy-half to evade his markers and score.
Gidley's kick was spot-on but the Broncos were quick to strike back, capitalising on a dropped ball from Levi two minutes later to score via second rower Matt Gillett. Ben Hunt converted this time, restoring his side's 10 point lead.
In the 54th minute Tapine came agonisingly close to his first NRL try when he attempted to clamp down on a Gidley grubber, but video replays showed that he hadn't grounded the ball.
There was no stopping the Knights four minutes later though when two props combined to score a try that any fullback or winger would be proud of. Pat Vaivai made a break through the middle to deftly feed Korbin Sims, who ran 40 metres to score his fourth try in four appearances against the Broncos.
Gagai converted to push the score to 26-22, but in the 62nd minute the home side scored again, this time via Boyd.
Gillet grabbed his second try five minutes later, and Parker converted to extend the Broncos' lead to 38-22.
In the following set Tariq Sims came close to scoring, but again the Broncos bounced back on the counter to score via Maranta in the right corner. Parker again converted to give the Broncos a 44-22 win.
Newcastle Knights 22 (T: Gagai, Uate, Levi, K Sims, G: Gidley 2/3, Gagai 1/1)
Brisbane Broncos 44 (T: Oates, McCullough, Maranta 2, Milford, Gillett 2, Boyd, G: Parker 6/8)