NEW Zealand finally broke their Australian duck, withstanding a stunning late Newcastle surge to prevail 18-16 at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
Winless this side of the Tasman over the opening 11 rounds of the competition, the Warriors appeared to be cruising after opening up a 16-6 lead only for the Knights to lock it up in the dying stages.
In the end a Patrick Ah Van penalty goal two minutes from full-time was all that separated the two sides with Jarrod Mullen ruled to have been in an offside position as he collected a kick which had rebounded off teammate Cooper Vuna’s back, much to the chagrin of the 15,489 fans.
The Warriors looked home just after the hour when hooker Ian Henderson circled over from dummy half to give the visitors a 16-6 lead just moments after Grant Rovelli had raced 90 metres from an intercept.
When Nathan Fien backed up that effort with a 40-20 on the next set, the Knights appeared dead, only to score two tries in the space of three minutes to lock it up at 16 apiece with eight minutes to go.
The first came via Chris Bailey who bounced through off a clever Danny Buderus pass from dummy half before a piggy-back penalty took the Knights back down the danger end.
With the crowd spurring them on, the Knights spread the ball wide from where Adam MacDougall flicked the ball over his shoulder for James McManus to cross out wide, Wes Naiqama unable to repeat his earlier effort with his sideline conversion slipping wide.
The Warriors looked like taking a 4-0 lead into the break after a lacklustre opening 40 minutes, only for all their good work to be undone in the shadows of the break.
Henderson kicked out on the full his side of the halfway line and the Knights accepted the invitation to march downfield.
Mullen found MacDougall who ignored outside support to carry two defenders over the line for a 6-4 half-time lead.
Newcastle Knights coach Brian Smith was livid with the standard of the officiating and while he refused to comment on the match-deciding penalty, claimed Jared Maxwell had punished both sides with a massive ten metres.
â€œWe practice on a set of rules where the indicators are that when the ruck is formed from a tackle, you’re required to get back ten metres, not 15,” Smith said.
â€œIt’s very difficult for players to perform at their best when they’re asked to play under a different set of conditions than they practice under.
â€œ(Warriors coach) Ivan Cleary certainly knew how to handle the referees, he told the press conference after we lost in Auckland that we should have done more homework on the referee … perhaps they did another job on the referee by doing their homework better than us again.”
Cleary refuted the claim, admitting both sides had their own slice of luck.
â€œI thought their last try had a fair question mark on it – usually these things balance themselves out,” he said.
As for shaking the monkey off their back with a win in Australia, Cleary was non-pulsed.
â€œIt’s just good to win, I don’t care where we win,” he said.
â€œWe really needed that win tonight. It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but it still had a fair bit of determination and that’s the most pleasing thing.”