The unbeaten Newcastle Knights welcomed Melbourne Storm to their temporary Central Coast home, having not beaten them in their previous seven encounters. The Knights were their own worst enemies on the way losing once again, going down 26-12 in a torrid tussle.
It only took until their second set of six for the Storm to open the scoring. Cameron Munster darted down the short side, found Kenny Bromwich who offloaded to Josh Addo-Carr. Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga came across to shut down Addo-Carr's run so he centered a kick along the ground from 10 metres out. New halfback Ryley Jacks, supporting up the middle, managed to get enough downward pressure on the ball with his wrist as he dived over the line. Cameron Smith converted to give the Storm an early 6-0 lead.
The Storm were enjoying the better of field position and some scrambling work from Mitchell Pearce and Ponga save a couple of tries, while giving Melbourne more possession. Finally, in the 15th minute, Storm centre Justin Olam kicked his grubber too far and the Knights received a relieving set of seven tackles.
Smith was rotating through the roles of dummy-half, first receiver and referee's assistant as the game progressed, depending on field position. The well-drilled Storm players made Smith's movements seamless. He said after the game that coach Craig Bellamy had relaxed the structures to allow them to take better advantage of the faster ruck speeds.
Twenty minutes into the game, the battle of the superstar fullbacks came to a head, with Ryan Papenhuyzen stopping a charging Ponga dead on the Storm try line. It looked like an almost certain Knights try until Papenhuyzen stepped up to make the hit.
Five minutes later Smith picked the ball up at dummy-half, a metre out from the Knights line, and floated a long ball out to winger Suliasi Vunivalu. He stepped around Edrick Lee and powered through Bradman Best to score out wide. Smith converted the try from the sideline to take the Storm to a 12-0 lead.
Newcastle were failing to complete their sets and their errors were forcing them into way too much defensive work. It is next to impossible to beat the Storm if you give them more than their fair share of possession.
Five minutes out from halftime, the Storm were attacking the Knights line again. On the last tackle Smith threw a perfect face pass across giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona to find a rampaging Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. The young giant was unstoppable from there and David Klemmer arriving late on the scene had no chance. Smith converted for a 18-0 lead, which was reduced to 18-2 thanks to a Ponga penalty goal on the halftime siren.
Nine minutes into the second half with the Knights on the attack a Pearce bomb was dropped by Vunivalu. From the play-the-ball the Knights spread it right where Ponga had three players outside him with two Storm defenders in front. He held the ball, stepped back inside and was tackled, a couple of tackles later they dropped the ball. Things weren't going right for the Knights and they certainly weren't helping themselves.
Fourteen minutes into the second half and Vunivalu spilt the ball during a hit-up deep in Storm territory. A couple of tackles later a Kurt Mann grubber kick through the line was chased by Best. He managed to barely ground the ball for the Knights' first try, which Ponga failed to convert for a score of 18-6.
Three minutes later Daniel Saifiti busted the Storm defence and found Pearce in support, but Pearce dropped the ball. The Knights had let themselves down again, but momentum was swinging.
With 19 minutes remaining in the game the Knights swept the ball to the left and Edrick Lee crashed over in the corner. Lee was down for several minutes after the try but was able to resume his place on the wing. Ponga scraped the conversion over the cross bar and the Knights were right back in the contest trailing 18-12.
With 12 minutes to go, the Storm broke from their own half with Vunivalu in the clear down the right wing. As Ponga came across in cover, he kicked the ball inside where Smith was able to regather, break out of a tackle and pass it back out to Vunivalu, who was hit high and hard by Lee as he slipped over. It was the Storm's best chance of the half and they were on the attack again following the penalty for the Lee high shot. They spread the ball right then left before Hymel Hunt stuck a hand out to prevent an Addo-Carr try in the corner.
With just over six minutes remaining Klemmer was penalised for a hit on Dale Finucane, five metres out from the Knights try-line. Replays showed Finucane running as a decoy directly into Klemmer, who really had no opportunity to avoid the collision. The penalty was converted by Smith and the Storm had an almost unassailable 20-12 lead.
Three minutes later, Brandon Smith tried to drive his way over from dummy-half. He and his Storm teammates celebrated a match-winner, but the referee wasn't so sure. He sent it for review as a "no try" but replays showed he had found the chalk and the game was over.
It had been a gallant effort by the Knights, but they threw away any chance of winning in a first half littered with handling errors. The Storm will always take advantage when given more of the ball.