A gritty performance from the Newcastle Knights saw them beat the Wests Tigers 18-16 at Hunter Stadium on Voice for Mining Day.
21,652 diehard Novocastrians were in the stands for the game, and they were treated to an end-to-end battle that saw plenty of great attacking football from both sides.
There were several changes for the Knights with Jaelen Feeney coming into the centres and Tariq Sims playing his first game of the season, while Will Pearsall earned an NRL debut from the bench.
Dane Gagai was outstanding at the back with more than 200 metres run, while Tyler Randell put in a mammoth shift at hooker with 43 tackles.
Both sides started the match with plenty of intent, but it was the Tigers that drew first blood. Mitchell Moses pried open the Knights’ defence in the 11th minute, offloading smartly for James Tedesco to score.
Ten minutes later the Knights looked in trouble when Robbie Farah made a break from his own line, feeding the ball to Tedesco who made 60 metres down the middle of the field.
Moses’ pass in the next play left much to be desired though, and Jeremy Smith scooped it up to send Trent Hodkinson on his way. Two tackles later the Knights were over the line, Akuila Uate shrugging off his defenders to get his first try of 2016.
Hodkinson continued his flawless start to the season from the kicking tee by converting from the sideline, the score 6-4.
Two penalties later the Knights were threatening the Tigers’ line again. Korbin Sims forced his way over the chalk but was held up, and minutes later the Tigers were back in the lead when Jordan Rankin finished off a 90 metre set.
The Knights continued to push in attack, and five minutes before half time Tyler Randell forced a repeat set with a grubber. Soon after Hodkinson showed great class to feint his way through the defensive line and gave Korbin Sims a try beneath the uprights.
Hodkinson again converted, putting the Knights two points into the lead for the half time break.
Early in the second half the Knights earned a repeat set in somewhat controversial fashion as Korbin Sims kicked a second ball that had come into play.
There was nothing out of line with the try that happened soon after though, Hodkinson and Jarrod Mullen combining to send Nathan Ross over the line. Hodkinson never looked like missing the conversion from the sideline, pushing the score to 18-10.
With 55 minutes played the Tigers bounced back, Tedesco again at the forefront when he tipped on a pass for Rankin to grab his second. Rankin converted from the sideline, but soon after Tigers captain Aaron Woods was forced from the field due to injury.
11 minutes from time the Knights got their next opportunity when the Tigers played the ball incorrectly 30 metres out. Nathan Ross looked to have secured his double when he made a break down the touchline, but the Tigers recovered well to force him out of play.
Four minutes from time the Knights looked to have sealed the game when Uate dived over in the right corner. The referees bunker ruled that Korbin Sims had knocked on in the build-up though, the final score 18-16.
Newcastle Knights 18 (T: Uate, K Sims, Ross, G: Hodkinson 3/3)
Wests Tigers 16 (T: Tedesco, Rankin 2, G: Rankin 2/3)