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It was not the result he hoped for, but Newcastle halfback Mitchell Pearce expressed gratitude and thanks to his family, friends and fans for making such a big deal of his special day.

The often-maligned playmaker, who made his senior debut as a 17-year-old for the Sydney Roosters 14 years earlier in Townsville, became only the 42nd player in NRL history to reach the 300-game milestone in Newcastle's 24-20 loss to Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

The Knights looked out of sorts for most of the game and trailed 18-8 midway through the second half but when Pearce burst into the clear to score under the posts in the 63rd minute, then Tyson Frizell scored six minutes later to give the Knights a 20-18 lead, a fairy-tale finish seemed inevitable.

But there was no happy ending as Newcastle winger Gehamat Shibasaki spilled a bomb and David Nofoaluma scored on the other side of the field from the ensuing scrum to allow Wests Tigers to retake the lead and they never relinquished it.

"I'm just more disappointed that we obviously lost, and the way we lost," Pearce told reporters.

"Seventeen errors is not good enough, and it's something we've been doing really well the first two games – high completions – and it was a big part of the game plan again today.

"So we didn't build the game early with our errors, then when we got ourselves back into the game with some really good footy, the errors cost us the game again."

Match Highlights: Knights v Wests Tigers

Pearce ran on to the field through a guard of honour that included his teammates, his parents Wayne and Terri, and sisters Tatum and Hannah, and after the game was presented with the match ball by NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.

"The week has been awesome; really overwhelming, and I'm really grateful and thankful for everything," Pearce said.

"I came out there in the players' room, and even my local mates and my close family and friends have all turned up and I didn't even know half of them were coming.

"That's the best thing about footy, and family and friends. Everyone gets behind each other.

"Just all the support, sometimes it's not what you're used to, so I'm just so grateful and thankful for the NRL for supporting me this week, and for the club. The club's been really supportive, from the boys to the staff, it's been a really nice week so I really appreciate it."

Pearce said he felt unaffected by the build-up to the game but, after their first loss of the season, will return to a more routine preparation for Newcastle's next assignment against the Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium on Easter Sunday.

"I just tried to enjoy it but it didn't affect today," he said.

"My mind was clearly on the game, and it was nice to run out and see Mum and Dad and my sisters and stuff there, and all the support with the boys, it was obviously a special day, but it didn't affect me once I ran out there.

"We had our footy heads on and it was just disappointing that we didn't get the job done and we need to bounce back for next week."

Pearce tries to lift his team with picturesque midfield break

The Knights were already without injured regulars Kalyn Ponga (shoulder), Blake Green (knee), Edrick Lee (foot), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (shoulder), Bradman Best (elbow) and Starford To'a (shoulder).

Best is expected to be sidelined for up to six weeks after suffering his injury at training last Thursday and there could be more players in their casualty ward after the loss.

Jacob Saifiti will have scans on a lower-leg injury that forced him from the field in the 30th minute, and Mitch Barnett (cramps) and winger Hymel Hunt (ankle) also needed on-field attention.

Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien was frustrated that his players could not produce a better collective performance on such a big occasion. Apart from Pearce's 300th game, it was the NRL debut for 19-year-old former Huddersfield Giants centre Dominic Young.

"We desperately wanted to make this a memorable day for Mitchell, and I'm sure it still is, but obviously you want to get the win at the end of it," O'Brien said.

"And young Dom making his debut, and we were at home, so it was important, so there's some disappointed guys down there."

O'Brien said some of his younger players would learn from mistakes made under pressure.

"We've had two really good games from those young guys and there was always going to be a game that they turn up and they're not at their best and, unfortunately, it was all on the same day. We had a large contingent," he said.

"We spoke all week about putting in a good performance for our milestone and our debutant so they're naturally disappointed, but we'll pick ourselves up tomorrow, we'll look at it in our review and we'll get better.

"We'll find ways to improve on it and some young blokes there will learn some valuable lessons and they'll be better for it."