The Vodafone Warriors missed their opportunity to move to fifth on the NRL ladder when they lost 22-28 to Newcastle in today's 23rd-round NRL clash at Hunter Stadiium.
They had given the Knights a big 14-0 start after conceding three tries in the opening 25 minutes of the contest but held their nerve to work their way back into the battle in the back end of the half.
The recovery began with a Shaun Johnson bomb to the right leading to a try to comeback winger David Fusitu'a, providing yet another acrobatic finish for his sixth try of the season.
And just minutes later they went to a short left side, Ben Matulino squeezing an offload out and big Manu Vatuvei snaring a straightforward 15th try of the season. With Chad Townsend's splendid conversion in breezy conditions, the Vodafone Warriors had fought their way back to go to the break just 10-14 down.
Then two minutes into the second half interchange dummy half Nathan Friend stole his way over for his first try of the season. Townsend couldn't convert again but the Vodafione Warriors had fought back to 14-14.
Only 10 minutes later the Knights reacted to the visitors' comeback when they attacked the short side on their left and somehow found space, Joey Leilua's off load enabling young winger Sione Mata'utia to get the ball down exceptionally for his third try of the afternoon. Kurt Gidley converted brilliantly and Newcastle had a 20-14 lead.
A 63rd-minute Gidley penalty had the Knights eight points clear and they kicked further ahead by sustaining their freewheeling football. With off loads a potent weapon throughout, they had the Vodafone Warriors under the pump with Jarrod Mullen's long pass to the right giving winger Chanel Mata'utia a critical try. That had Newcastle out to a healthy 26-14 lead.
The Vodafone Warriors weren't deterred as they profited from a short restart, regained possession, forced a goal-line drop-out and in the repeat set worked a sweet second try for Fusitu'a in the right-hand corner. The breeze challenged Townsend and he couldn't convert to leave his side eight points behind at 18-26.
Gidley went for a penalty to extend Newcastle out to a 28-18 lead but in the 75th minute another stunning winger's finish had the Vodafone Warriors right back in it.
It came courtesy of The Beast. On a day when special finishes featured in abundance this one was quite miraculous as Vatuvei stayed just inside the touchline and amazingly got the ball down for his second try and his 16th of the year. Crucially, though, Townsend couldn't convert from wide out, his fourth miss of the day; all the tries were scored well out on a demanding day for goal-kickers but the misses would prove costly.
Despite that and being six points down with time running out, the Vodafone Warriors went at Newcastle's left side again, Sam Tomkins seemingly set to provide his side's sixth try of the contest and give the Vodafone Warriors a chance of taking the game into extra time. Unfortunately the final transfer was intercepted and the Knights survived to complete a trifecta of impressive home wins against the Roosters, Melbourne and the Vodafone Warriors.
Despite the loss the Vodafone Warriors stay in the top eight - they have fallen to eighth spot following other results in the round - but this match represented a chance to firm up their play-offs plans.
Now they have to focus on the Roosters. The premiers will bring stars galore with them for next Sunday's 24th-round affair at Mount Smart Stadium and they'll also bring form with them after pounding Wests Tigers 48-4 on Saturday night.
For now, though, they'll rue their slip-up in Newcastle.
Match details | Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Newcastle Knights 28 (Sione Mata’utia 3, Joey Leilua, Chanel Mata'utia tries; Kurt Gidley 2 conversions, 2 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 22 (David Fusitu’a 2, Manu Vatuvei 2, Nathan Friend tries; Chad Townsend conversion).
Halftime: 14-10 Knights.
Referees: Gavin Morris and Gavin Reynolds.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitu’a, Ngani Laumape, Ben Henry, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Thomas Leuluai, Suaia Matagi; Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Feleti Mateo, Sam Rapira, Sione Lousi, Nathan Friend.