The Vodafone Junior Warriors were unable to sustain an electrifying start, falling 34-40 in a thriller against the competition-leading Knights in their 23rd-round NYC clash at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle today.
The visitors were explosive early on thanks to Brad Abbey, who continued in the same vein he was in against the Sharks at Mount Smart Stadium last weekend.
The fullback was able to pick apart the defence immediately and found Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard beside him, the second rower receiving a well-timed assist and having the momentum to go all the way over for his sixth try of the year.
Five minutes later the Vodafone Junior Warriors were in again, this time with Abbey as scorer.
A successful captain's challenge overruled a call against the Vodafone Junior Warriors, giving them a scrum 10 metres out. They used this effectively and ran al set play off the back of the scrum, turning the ball quickly through the hands before Abbey was afforded space for his 13th try of the season.
For the next try it was the co-captains who conjured up a special play. Mason Lino set himself at first receiver and then flipped a quick ball to fellow skipper Sam Lisone, who threw a dummy and then bulldozed his way through with 16 minutes on the board.
Newcastle's duck was ended by winger Jake Mamo, who weaved his way inside, shedding tackles to stretch out and score. Stand-off Brock Lamb added the extras and his side was back in the contest with the visitors' lead cut to 16-6.
Lino was next on the score sheet, doing so by selling two dummies and then darting through the space. He converted his own try to make it 22-6 with 27 minutes gone.
It was at this point that the Knights changed gears and put their flat-footed start behind them, though. They did so with three tries before the break, first through Harry Pondekas, who planted a clever grubber from Mamo in the 30th minute.
Former New Zealand 18s representative Danny Levi followed suit three minutes later, benefiting from a quick play-the-ball from former Vodafone Junior Warrior James Taylor and burrowing his way over the line right out in front to close the gap.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon completed the comeback on halftime, forcing his way through the Vodafone Junior Warriors' right edge seconds before the siren. Lamb's extras made the score 24-22 in Newcastle's favour.
The home side continued its surge on the other side of the break and Levi had his second within five minutes of the restart. He did it in similar fashion to his first as well, taking the ball quickly from dummy half and ducking over.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors were able to respond this time, though, thanks to a brilliant solo piece of play from Jazz Tevaga, who was able to break the line on the halfway mark and pull away. Lino accompanied him but Tevaga opted for the dummy and took it himself.
Tevaga's afternoon was soon dampened, though, as he was binned along with Newcastle's Joseph Tapine due to his involvement in a scuffle as tempers flared.
When calm was restored Harry Pondekas was able to grab his double on the right edge, doing so in the 62nd minute following a well-worked phase of attack from the Knights. Lamb's conversion made it 36-28.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors did not allow them to pull away, however, with James Bell providing a flicker of hope when he snuck over from dummy half leaving the score 34-36.
Newcastle's Lamb was the instigator on the next score, using some swift footwork to find daylight in the Vodafone Junior Warriors' defence before rifling a ball to Bradie Smith. Smith proved too quick for winger Metia Lisati and he was not going to be stopped on his way to the line in the left corner with nine minutes to play.
Lamb couldn't convert from the sideline and his first miss of the day left the door ajar for the visiting side with the lead at 40-34.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors were unable to draw level, though, allowing the Knights to inch closer to securing the minor premiership.
Next weekend the Vodafone Junior Warriors play host to the fifth-placed Roosters, who were held to a 28-28 draw this weekend by the Tigers. The stakes at Mount Smart will be high with both teams fighting to hold their spots within the competition's top eight.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors are eighth for now but will slip tp eighth if Penrith beats the lower-ranked North Queensland tomorrow night.
Match details | Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Newcastle Knights 40 (Danny Levi 2, Harry Pondekas 2, Jake Mamo, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Bradie Smith tries; Brock Lamb 6 conversions).
Vodafone Warriors 34 (Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Brad Abbey, Sam Lisone, Mason Lino, Jazz Tevaga, James Bell tries; Mason Lino 5 conversions).
Halftime: 24-22 Knights.
Referees: David Munro and Matt Noyen.
Vodafone Warriors: Brad Abbey; Paul Ulberg, Nathaniel Roache, Marata Niukore, Metia Lisati; Semisi Tyrell, Mason Lino (c); Kouma Samson, Kurt Robinson, Sam Lisone (c); Toafofoa Sipley, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard; James Bell. Interchange: Michael Ki, Jazz Tevaga, Iulio Afoa, Joseph Price.