By Adam Kidd
The Newcastle Knights have secured second place at the end of the regular season and extinguished the Jets’ finals flames following a thrilling 26-24 victory at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Three tries inside the final seven minutes wasn’t enough to get the Jets over the line and into the finals after they trailed the Knights 26-8 and looked to be no hope of repeating their comeback heroics of recent weeks.
A Scott Dureau intercept try at the 73rd minute gave the Jets a glimmer of hope, which quickly turned into a slight chance of victory when Junior Vai Vai danced around the opposition before linking with a flying Jonathan Reuben who found Vai Vai in support to score the Jets second try in as many minutes.
From the ensuing kick-off, the Jets worked the ball downfield for Scott Dureau to attempt a 40/20 that turned infield and looked certain to be picked up by the Knights Josh Mantellato only for the ball to take a wicked bounce away from the winger and land in the path of Jonathan Reuben to give Dureau a chance of levelling the game with a minute to play.
With the kick waved away, the Jets were given another lifeline with a late penalty but the Knights defence held on for a well-deserved victory after they had competed with 12-men for almost an hour after Chad Redman was sent from the field for high contact on Dureau.
The Jets opened the scoring early in the game with Rhyse Martin diving over in the corner after a sublime pass from Dureau split open the Knights defence for a 4-0 lead.
The Knights took 25 minutes to find themselves on the scoreboard and did so when James Elias broke through the defence to set up Brayden Wiliame for a try, with Mantellato adding the extras for a 6-4 lead.
Junior Vai Vai finished off a great team try in the 30th minute, diving over in the corner and sending Newtown into the break with an 8-6 lead over the Knights at half-time.
Nathan Ross ensured Newcastle got off to the best possible start when he outpaced the Jets defence to open the scoring in the second half after only five minutes.
The Knights were at it again ten minutes later when a Michael Dobson short ball found a rampaging Clint Newtown who spilt the defence wide open before linking up with Elias to score and set up a 20-8 lead.
With both teams fighting hard to gain the ascendancy, a poor kick from Newtown whilst attacking the Knights line in the 68th minute was scooped up by Josh Mantellato who raced 60 metres before being dragged down in a try saving tackle by Vai Vai.
The Knights had the overlap however and when they spread the ball wide, Elias had too much pace for the cover defence to score his second try and seal the victory despite the Jets late fight back.
Newcastle will now play Wentworthville in week one of the VB NSW Cup Finals, with Newtown left to rue what may have been in 2014.
Newcastle Knights 26 (J Elias 2, N Ross, B Wiliame tries; J Mantellato 4, M Dobson goals) def. Newtown Jets 24 (J Vaivai 2, S Dureau, M Evans, J Reuben tries; S Dureau 2 goals) at Hunter Stadium.