A brace to Warriors contortionist-like winger Ken Maumalo has breathed some oxygen back into the Auckland club’s finals chances with a comeback 24-20 win over a depleted Newcastle side at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
The 24-year-old looked like he had registered a hat-trick. But his atypical airborne scoring style in the 66th minute was ruled a "no try" by the bunker because he lost fingertip control of the ball.
Interchange forward Sam Lisone emerged as the Warriors' second hero of the night when his quick reflexes picked up a loose ball that ricocheted off Connor Watson’s foot five minutes from fulltime.
In a frantic final minute of play prop Agnatius Paasi was sin-binned for a professional foul as the Knights darted and weaved to try to find a way through to force the game into golden point.
But the Warriors were not going to suffer a second golden point defeat in a row after losing 19-18 to Penrith last weekend. They pressured the Knights into an error in the final passing exchange.
Perhaps the Knights were not tipped to win but no-one expected them to get that close. The lead changed four times.
The Knights were down seven starting personnel - four away on Origin duty in Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti with NSW and Tim Glasby with Queensland; the injured Kalyn Ponga (calf) and Edrick Lee (broken arm); and the suspended Mitch Barnett.
The only change for the Warriors was Gerard Beale coming into the centres for Patrick Herbert, although Tohu Harris (foot) is still out injured.
So in other words the visitors were virtually at full strength, while the home side had band-aids all over the place. Still you wouldn’t have known it with the Knights leading 12-2 at halftime and with only 44% possession.
But Nathan Brown’s men had made 18 tackle breaks to five for the Warriors and two line breaks to none.
However, once the Maumalo show got going – that’s now 12 tries in 15 games – the Warriors seemed a safe bet.
After trading penalties it was 2-2 after the opening 15 minutes but there had already been six errors.
The Warriors' luck kept running against them as a David Fusitu’a try in the north-east corner (20th minute) was disallowed by the bunker, when replays showed Kodi Nikorima bobbling the ball off the turf as he tried to catch it in the lead-up.
So no surprise it was the Knights who scored first through stand-in centre Sione Mata’utia from an offload by second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
It was Fitzgibbon again who starred in the Knights' second try – just seconds from the half-time hooter. He grounded the ball after Fusitu’a made a meal of trying to ground a Kurt Mann grubber.
Match: Knights v Warriors
Round 16 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
- LIVE PASS
And the ever-reliable second-rower did it all with only one good arm. He hyper-extended his left elbow in the fourth minute, when it became caught under Warriors hooker Karl Lawton.
The second half started better for Stephen Kearney’s men. On the back of three penalties from the Knights, centre Peta Hiku finally crossed (43rd) followed by Maumalo (47th). Suddenly the 10-point deficit at the break was reduced to zero – 12-all and still 31 minutes left on the clock.
Maumalo scored his second (55th) although there appeared to be a forward pass in the lead-up. But an Issac Luke conversion from the sideline, with the Andrew Johns Stand patrons in full voice, put the Warriors ahead for the first time in the match 18-14.
Mata’utia scored his second in the 69th minute for the Knights to edge ahead 20-18 before the Warriors had the final say with Lisone crashing over beside the posts.
The Knights remain in the top eight although they could be pushed down to sixth or even seventh with Manly having the bye and if the Sharks win on Sunday.
The Warriors remain in 12th spot as the Panthers also gain two competition points from the bye.
In some good news for the Knights, former Origin and Test backrower Aidan Guerra returned to the fray.
His last game was the round five loss to Manly in mid-April, where he left the field on a medi-cab and with a green whistle in his mouth to reduce the pain from a dislocated and fractured right ankle.
He had surgery two days later.
It was another injury return for prop Jacob Saifiti. He was playing his first NRL game for the year after breaking his leg in an off-field incident outside a hotel in December.