With the Melbourne Storm in town, the Newcastle Knights had the chance to all but confirm their status as top-four contenders in a battle at Central Coast Stadium
After five minutes of back and forth between the two sides, It was Craig Bellamy’s side who seemed to pick up the first try of the match.
Josh Addo-Carr kicked back inside after running out of space, and the onrushing Ryley Jacks was deemed to have grounded the ball ahead of Herman Ese’ese to make the most of his call up to the squad.
Since they crossed for their first try, the Storm looked to pile the pressure on the Knights and forced four sets of six on the bounce inside the Newcastle half. Luckily for Adam O’Brien, his side’s defensive efforts were enough to keep the visitors out.
Sione Mata’utia made a line break for the Knights just before the 20th minute and looked to put Newcastle on the front foot, winning a penalty in the process after Papenhuyzen stripped the ball with two in a tackle.
A knock-on from Ese’ese let the Storm off the hook, and Cameron Smith broke 20-metres upfield to relieve the pressure.
Kalyn Ponga was inches from pulling a score back for the Knights, but Ryan Papenhuyzen stopped his opposite number in his tracks before snuffing out Mitchell Pearce’s fifth tackle kick in the very next play.
Despite struggling to convert their chances over previous weeks, Melbourne pushed ahead another score thanks to a superb finish from Suliasi Vunivalu.
Cameron Smith identified that Newcastle weren’t quite set up on their left-hand edge so pushed the ball outside to Vunivalu, who then pushed off Edrick Lee and dived over in the corner.
The Knights were determined to try and grab a try of their own before the break, and Ponga looked to claim Pearce’s high bomb in centre field.
However, the full-back couldn’t quite grab the ball and a knock-on was called.
The 12-point lead Melbourne had soon turned to 18 with five minutes of the half to go.
Cameron Smith ran from dummy-half and picked out Tino Faasuamaleaui who walked in to score his first NRL try.
With half-time approaching, the Knights were hoping to avoid being nilled in the first half, but the Storm were looking to extend their lead.
They nearly did so as well, but Cameron Smith’s drop-goal attempt drifted wide.
The Knights did have the ball in the closing seconds of the half, and after picking up a penalty on the siren, Ponga converted to make it 2-18 at the break.
Melbourne were lucky not to have Felise Kaufusi sin-binned for the penalty as it was an intentional foul.
HALF-TIME: Newcastle Knights 2-18 Melbourne Storm
After a physical opening few minutes of the second half, both Kurt Mann and Sione Mata’utia picked up knocks for the Knights, which left them slightly vulnerable in defence.
Despite making plenty of errors with ball in hand, the Knights were the next to score.
After a set restart, Kurt Mann kicked in behind the line on the first tackle and Bradman Best reached the ball and looked to have scored.
The score went to the Bunker, and from one angle, the young centre dropped the ball, but from the other, the downward pressure was applied.
With the decision going up as try, Best was awarded the four-pointer which narrowed the gap.
A second Knights try should have followed in the very next set as Daniel Saifiti broke through the Melbourne defence.
However, Saifiti’s pass to Mitchell Pearce was poor and the half-back failed to gather.
Newcastle had worked their way back into the game following a quiet opening 50 minutes but were still sloppy with the ball in hand.
That was all except Ponga and Best who combined down the left-hand edge to give the ball to Edrick Lee, whose power was enough for him to score through the tackle of Papenhuyzen.
Ponga converted to cut the deficit to six points with 16 minutes remaining.
Melbourne were close to picking up their fourth try, as the ball found Suliasi Vunivalu, however, Edrick Lee did enough to stop his opposite number.
Lee’s tackle was high on Vunivalu and the Storm attacked from 10-metres out. The resulting sets came to nothing, as it was the Knights turn to push for points once more.
With eight minutes on the clock, the Knights conceded a penalty just beyond the halfway line, but instead of going for two points, Cameron Smith kicked to touch, which may be a decision he came to regret.
Just a moment later though, Dale Finucane was tackled without the ball in front of the posts by David Klemmer, which seemed a soft penalty call.
However, with the kick a lot easier, Smith converted to extend the Melbourne lead back to eight.
Just a few minutes later, the Storm sealed the match as Brandon Smith picked up from dummy-half and showed huge amounts of strength to push through three Newcastle defenders to ground the ball.
With the Knights aware the game was lost, they attempted once last hurrah, but Pearce’s chip kick was punched out by Brandon Smith.
FULL-TIME: Newcastle Knights 12-26 Melbourne Storm
Ponga, E. Lee, Tuala, Best, Hunt, Mann, Pearce, Klemmer, McCullough, D. Saifiti, Guerra, Mata’utia, Ese’ese
Interchanges: Hoy, J. Saifiti, Glasby, Jones
Tries: Best, Lee
Goals: Ponga (2/3)
Papenhuyzen, Vunivalu, Olam, B. Lee, Addo-Carr, Munster, Jacks, J. Bromwich, C. Smith, B. Smith, Kaufusi, K. Bromwich, Finucane
Interchanges: Welch, Faasuamaleaui, Asofa-Solomona, Eisenhuth
Tries: Jacks, Vunivalu, Faasuamaleaui, B. Smith
Goals: C. Smith (5/5)
Referee: B. Cummins
Touch Judges: G. Badger, T. Smith
Video Referee: B. Galea