In what was an incredible game of two halves, the NYC Newcastle Knights came up 34-26 winners over the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park on Saturday afternoon.
While the young Knights had an incredible first half in which everything they touched turned to gold, their opponents scored 18 unanswered points early in the second stanza to set up a very nervy finish.
For long periods thereafter the Thunderbolts hammered away at the Knights’ line, and it wasn’t until the 78th minute that the red and blues were assured of their victory thanks to a breakaway Kainoa Gudgeon try.
The left side combination of Ken Tofilau and the returning Cory Denniss were outstanding for the Knights as well, creating and scoring three of the side’s five tries in the first half and preventing several as well in the dying stages of the match.
Melbourne got off to a strong start when Charlie Garlo burst through the line to set up a try for Cory Parker on the left flank. Fullback Jesse Arthars’ attempted conversion went well wide, and soon after a good kick from Jake McNamara forced a repeat set.
A brilliant flick pass from Cory Denniss in the following set gave Ken Tofilau an easy try in the left corner, and Brock Lamb converted to put the Knights into the lead.
Five minutes later the Knights’ left edge combined again, Denniss collecting a loose ball to run deep into Thunderbolts territory and pass to Tofilau for his second try. Lamb again struck the ball sweetly from the sideline for the conversion.
With 19 minutes played the home side were denied a try due to a forward pass, and soon after Denniss again came to the fore for the Knights, offloading on halfway to set up a first NYC try for Zac Hosking.
The Knights were well and truly running the show now, and two minutes later fullback Nick Meaney made a line break that resulted in Tofilau getting his third.
Six minutes from half time Storms' five-eighth Scott Drinkwater made a break to run 30 metres and score, but the Knights had the final say in the half when SG Ball graduate Tom Starling sent a quick pass from dummy-half for Jordan Pinnock to score untouched beneath the uprights. Lamb made it five conversions from five attempts to push the half-time score to 30-8.
The Thunderbolts opened the scoring in the second half, Jaiyden Hunt making a big break in the 45th minute.
Minutes later Drinkwater set alarm bells ringing for the young Knights as he grabbed his second solo try. Arthars converted to make the score 30-20, and the second half only got worse for the Knights five minutes later as Galo forced his way over the line.
With 25 minutes still left to play the Knights suddenly found themselves looking at a very nervy finish. The Thunderbolts continued to hammer away at the red and blue line, but the Knights rediscovered their defensive starch.
Ten minutes from the final siren Arthar looked sure to score in broken play, until opposite number Meaney stepped up to make a try saving one-on-one tackle.
The Thunderbolts had two more clear-cut opportunities to score, but with two minutes left on the clock the Knights counter-attacked brilliantly when Jamayne Taunoa-Brown pounced on a loose pass to give Gudgeon a 40 metre try.
Lamb missed the conversion, the final score 34-26.
1. Nick Meaney, 2. Kanoa Gudgeon, 23. Cory Denniss, 4. Henry Penn, 22. Ken Tofilau, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Jake McNamara, 8. Tyrone Amey, 9. Joe Morris, 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 11. Eddy Tuilotolava, 15. Zac Hosking, 13. Ryan Glanville. Interchange: 14. Tom Starling, 16. Sam Stone, 17. Jordan Pinnock, 20. Jayden Butterfield.
Newcastle Knights 34 (T: Tofilau 3, Hosking, Pinnock, Gudgeon, G: Lamb 5/6)
Melbourne Storm 26 (T: Drinkwater 2, Parker, Hunt, Galo, G: Arthars 3/5)