The Newcastle Knights lost 46-24 against the St George Illawarra Dragons at Jubilee Oval on Sunday afternoon.
While the red and blues played with plenty of heart and determination, it was their concentration in defence that again let them down.
Debutants Nathan Ross and Lachlan Fitzgibbon played well, but it was the performance of Adam Clydsdale and Korbin Sims in the centre of the pitch that caught the eye.
Clydsdale made a game-high 42 tackles and scored a try while Sims racked up 150 metres with the ball.
It was far from a perfect start for the Knights as Kade Snowden dropped the ball in a tackle with less than a minute played.
Moments later Dragons fullback Josh Dugan leapt high over Dane Gagai to catch a bomb and score.
The Knights dominated the play from there with several sets on the Dragons' line, but with nine minutes played the Dragons capitalised on a penalty for hooker Mitch Rein to score.
Widdop again converted, and to make matters worse for the Knights Snowden was forced from the field with suspected concussion moments later.
There was plenty of resilience shown by the Knights when they bounced back in the next set via captain Kurt Gidley. He finished off a backline move on the right flank, and Tyrone Roberts added the extras to halve the Dragons lead.
With 19 minutes played the Knights struck again, Adam Clydsdale selling a dummy to the Dragons' defence that allowed him to wriggle his way over the line. Roberts again converted to even the scores.
The Knights took the lead soon after when Carlos Tuimavave intercepted a pass to run 60 metres. He was brought down short of the line, but with the Dragons' defence struggling to get onside the Knights played the ball across the field for Jake Mamo to score. Roberts' attempted conversion from the sideline went wide but the Knights still had the lead.
With nine minutes to play in the first half the Knights struck again, Clint Newton offloading to Sione Mata'utia, who spread the ball to debutant Nathan Ross for a try in the corner. It was just reward for a player that has battled through years of reserve grade football to a get a crack in the NRL, and pushed the Knights lead to 20-12.
With seconds left before half-time the Dragons won a penalty directly in front of the uprights, and Widdop duly converted to push the half-time score to 20-14.
The Knights started the second half much the same way they started the first, Tyler Randell dropping the ball from the scrum in the 44th minute ten metres out from his own line. Widdop scored two minutes later, and converted as well to pull the scores even.
With 49 minutes played the Dragons grabbed more points, Widdop converting a penalty goal conceded by Mata'utia.
Five minutes later second rower Tyson Frizell bundled his way over the line to extend the Dragons' lead, but the Knights responded soon after via Randell.
The little hooker made up for his earlier mistake when he broke free from dummy-half to run forty metres and score in the corner. Roberts couldn't convert from the sideline, leaving the score at 28-24.
Six minutes later Mamo looked to have grabbed his second when he slammed the ball down in the right corner, but video replays showed that he had lost contact.
Soon after the Dragons scored again with halfback Benji Marshall both orchestrating and finishing off a try on the left edge. Widdop's conversion was accurate, and four minutes later the Dragons scored again via Will Matthews to extend the home side's lead to 16 points.
With seconds remaining on the clock Josh Dugan crossed over to give his side a 46-24 win.
Newcastle Knights 24 (T: Gidley, Clydsdale, Mamo, Ross, Randell, G: Roberts 2/5)
St George Illawarra Dragons 46 (T: Dugan 2, Rein, Widdop, Frizell, Marshall, Matthews, G: Widdop 7/7, P: Widdop 2/2)