They came desperately close, but the Newcastle Knights were beaten 20-16 by the Melbourne Storm at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the Knights boasting 58 per cent of possession and making 200 metres more, the Storm proved too experienced and assured in the way they grabbed their tries and closed out the match.
With multiple late changes including the return of hooker Chris Adams, Jake Mamo shifted to fullback and was a standout with 150 metres and two eye-catching tries. Robbie Rochow was also impressive with the workload he went through at prop, but was forced from the field in the second half due to injury.
The Knights had the best of the early attacking opportunities with the returning Jarrod Mullen getting his hands on the ball at every opportunity, and after eight minutes the Knights had forced two line dropouts from the Storm.
With nine minutes played Korbin Sims spun his way over the try line to ground the ball, but video replays showed he lost possession of the ball.
Two minutes later the Storm scored well and truly against the run of play when Mamo dropped the ball deep in their half. Winger Marika Koroibete proved too fast for the recovering Knights defence, racing 90 metres to score. Cameron Smith butchered a straightforward conversion to leave the score at 4-0.
With 18 minutes played the Knights were on the attack again, a scrambling Sione Mata’utia almost grounding a Mullen grubber for a try.
The Knights got another line dropout and soon after Mamo showed razor sharp reflexes to grab onto a misdirected pass and score. Trent Hodkinson converted to put the Knights into the lead, but several minutes later the red and blues coughed up possession 30 metres out to lay the platform for a Suliasi Vunivalu try in the right corner.
Cameron Smith was again inaccurate from the tee, but the Storm clung on to their two-point lead going into half time.
The visitors were the first to score in the second half, Koroibete collecting the ball ten metres out to bulldoze his way over the line. Cameron Smith made no mistakes from the tee this time, his kick on target from the sideline.
There was another blow coming up for the Knights, as Rochow was forced from the field with a pectoral injury. He had been the Knights’ best up until that point with 162 metres and 20 tackles, and was not able to return.
The Knights came close to scoring eight minutes later when a backline move saw Brendan Elliot receive the ball out on the touchline, but the pass from Pat Mata’utia slipped through his fingertips with the try line begging.
There were no mistakes from Elliot with 13 minutes to play though, the utility back collecting a flick pass from Pat Mata’utia to get over the line. Hodkinson’s attempted conversion from the sideline sailed wide to leave the score at 14-10, and six minutes later Melbourne restored their lead when Tohu Harris went crashing over the line.
Cameron Smith converted to make the score 20-10, but the Knights weren’t done just yet. Three minutes from time Mullen put up a bomb that Cameron Munster looked as though he had covered. Mamo proved otherwise though, and leapt highest to grab the ball and score his second.
With only four points between the two sides the Knights pushed desperately for more points, but the final score remained 20-16.
Newcastle Knights 16 (T: Mamo 2, Elliot, G: Hodkinson 2/3)
Melbourne Storm 20 (T: Koroibete 2, Vunivalu, G: Smith 0/3)