Decamped en-masse to the Gold Coast, the New Zealand Warriors, under new coach Nathan Brown, were looking to build upon last weekend’s opening round win against the Gold Coast Titans. But the opponents tonight were a Newcastle Knights side who also got their season off to a winning start with a 32-16 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs.
There was little to choose between the two sides on paper, with both looking to move to the top of the table with a win. There was just a single change made by each coach, Adam Pompey in for Aitken for the Warriors and Phoenix Crossland taking the place of Mann for the Knights.
The rain started as the game got underway with the slippy ball likely to be a leveller.
From the off the Warriors laid siege to the Knights line forcing dropouts and repeat sets, but the tenacious Newcastle defence somehow held on.
Almost a quarter of the game had gone before Jayden Brailey scooted from acting half-back to cover ten metres in the blink of an eye and get over the line for the Knights opener. Mitchell Barnett drilled the ball between the sticks for a 6-0 lead, somewhat against the run of play having weathered the initial Warriors onslaught.
Wayde Egan was denied a try by the video referee on thirty for a knock-on in the act of scoring, but further video replays made it look like a harsh decision against the Warriors. The decision resulted in a penalty for the home side and four plays in, Ben Murdoch-Masila hit a gap in the Knights defence to get over the line. Cody Nikorima added the conversion to level the scores.
A thirty-seventh minute penalty, for use of the knee by Jazz Tavega, gave Barnett the opportunity to put the Knights back into the lead, and at 8-6 at the interval it was still all to play for in the second half.
The Knights extended their lead on forty-nine after a beautiful pass from Bradman Best found Hymel Hunt free in the left corner to leap over the line and ground one-handed by the corner flag. Barnett added the extras superbly from tight to the touchline for an eight-point lead.
With twenty-two left on the clock the Warriors struck back, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck finding Adam Pompey who stepped out of the first tackle and got stretched to get the ball on the line. Nikorima was on target with the conversion, the margin back down to just two points with a quarter of the game remaining.
The Warriors took the lead for the first time on sixty-eight when Ken Maumalo was at the end of a passing move to take the Tuivasa-Sheck pass exploit the overlap in the left corner. Pompey took over the kicking duties but was unable to convert from the touchline.
There were just five minutes left on the clock as Best broke the Warriors line and offloaded inside to Hunt to run the remaining fifteen metres for his second try of the game. Barnett added the conversion to put the Knights back into a four-point lead at 20-16.
The Warriors failed with a short kick-off attempt and Newcastle took the sting out of any potential dying seconds fightback to secure their second consecutive victory and go to the top of the pile.
The lead changed hands several times in an exciting encounter where neither side really deserved to lose. The standout contribution was from inspirational Knights centre Bradman Best whose exquisite passing was the key difference.
New Zealand Warriors: Tuivasa-Sheck, Fusitu’a. Pompey (T), Hiku, Maumalo (T), Nikorima (2G), Harris-Tavita, Fonua-Blake, Egan, Taunoa-Brown, Katoa, Sironen, Harris. Subs: Tavega, Murdoch-Masila (T), Ah Mau, Afoa.
Newcastle Knights: Hoy, To’a, Tuala, Best, Hunt (2T), Crossland, Pearce, Klemmer, Brailey (T), Saifiti, Frizell, Barnett (4G), Sue. Subs: Watson, Saifiti, King, Jones.
Referee: Grant Atkins.