The Newcastle Knights were beaten 28-26 by the St George Illawarra Dragons at Jubilee Oval in the final match of the 2016 season.
With several late changes that included Jarrod Mullen moving to hooker, the Knights started strongly and looked favourites to win late on.
A late penalty goal to the Dragons was the difference between the two sides in the end, and the Knights were unlucky to not go into the offseason with a win.
In the sixth minute Jake Mamo threw a classy cut out pass that winger Nathan Ross managed to catch with an outstretched hand on the sideline. From there he powered through three defenders to score.
It got even better for the Knights four minutes later as Trent Hodkinson put through a grubber that Jacob Saifiti managed to scoop up and slam over the line. Hodkinson converted to make the score 10-0, but after several repeat sets the Dragons got back into the game with Jason Nightingale getting over in the right corner.
From the following restart Hodkinson made an uncharacteristic error by smashing the ball into touch, and the Dragons suddenly found themselves starting their set on the halfway line. Will Matthews dropped the ball ten metres short of the line though, and the Knights escaped.
There was no stopping the Dragons in the 24th minute though, as Joel Thompson picked the ball up 30 metres out and wrong-footed Jake Mamo to make a break and score in the corner. Widdop missed the conversion to leave the score at 10-all, but soon after the Dragons went in the lead when Benji Marshall put Thompson through for his second.
The red and blues were in free fall now, and from the restart the Dragons scored again, Josh Dugan setting up Jake Marketo to finish off a 70 metre try. Widdop converted to make the score 22-10, but three minutes from half time the Knights got another good chance.
It was Mullen that spread the ball out wide following a Pat Mata’utia offload, but with Ross looking to grab the ball and score in the corner, Dugan managed to get a hand to the pass.
The Knights started the second half in a similar vein to the first, Hodkinson putting up a kick at the end of their first set that ended up in the hands of Dane Gagai. From ten metres out and in broken play he was always going to score, and Hodkinson’s attempted conversion went wide to make the score 22-14.
Five minutes later the Knights scored their fourth, Hodkinson again doing some good work from a kick for Pete Mata’utia to score.
There was only two points between the two sides now, but it was the Dragons that scored next in the 59th minute, Nightingale getting his second in the corner following a turnover from the Knights 30 metres out.
The Knights were struggling to get any real attacking momentum, but with eight minutes left on the clock Mitch Barnett came up with the big play to fend off several defenders and run 10 metres to get over the line. Hodkinson showed nerves of steel to convert from out wide and even the scores at 26-all.
Disaster struck for the Knights soon after though, as Sione Mata’utia and Jaelen Feeney went down with cramp and Jacob Saifiti was knocked to the ground and struggled to get back into the game.
With no interchanges left the red and blues had to dig deep, but the Dragons got lucky with a minute left on the clock. The referee penalised Jeremy Smith for an infringement in the ruck 40 metres out and Widdop kicked a penalty goal to make the final score 28-26.
Newcastle Knights 26 (T: Ross, J Saifiti, Gagai, Peter Mata’utia, Barnett, G: Hodkinson 3/5)
St George Illawarra Dragons 28 (T: Nightingale 2, Thompson 2, Marketo, G: Widdop 3/5, P: 1)