The iSelect Titans have gone down to competition leaders Newcastle 42-12 at Hunter Stadium after competing so well for the first half hour of the game.
The Titans were behind only 10-6 after half an hour but conceded two tries in the last eight minutes of the first session to go to the break 16-6.
With a big wind in their face, they fought back to 22-12 but the well drilled Knights ran away with the game against a Titans side that fought hard until possession turned against them in the last 20 minutes.
The Knights leaped to a 10-0 lead after just 12 minutes with fullback Sione Mata’utai scoring a double and putting the Titans under early pressure.
From then the Titans gained composure and were tight in defence and controlled the ball well and were back in the match at 10-6 when fullback Jahrome Hughes scored after 21 minutes, with fellow skipper Kane Elgey converting.
They were matching the competition leaders in most facets until eight minutes before the break when Hughes made a costly judgement when he let a grubber kick go behind him into the in-gaol thinking it would be cleaned up by defenders behind him. Unfortunately the ball rebounded off the right upright and was pounced on by Newcastle halfback Jaelen Feeney who scored under the posts.
It was converted by winger Bryce Donovan for 16-6. Just five minutes later second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon ran a good straight line at speed and broke the line from 10m and added a fourth try for the home side. Donovan’s conversion made it 22-6 at half-time although the Titans were not performing near as bad as the score-line suggested.
The Titans came out from the break into a big southerly wind but began the second half brilliantly with a try on the left flank to winger Jayden Connor, which was converted into the wind by Kane Elgey. That made it 22-12.
Then came a massive turning point. The Titans ran the ball on the last tackle and after a couple of frantic passes Elgey broke through the middle of the ruck and passed to a support with a try looking certain. But Knights fullback Mata’utai intercepted brilliantly and ran 90m before being gathered in. Three rucks later the ball was spread to the left and winger Birth scored for the Knights to make it 26-12 after 13 minutes of the second half.
The Titans had the opportunity to replicate the situation when right winger Zac Spring latched into a Knights pass and ran 80m only to be rounded up by Knights five-eighth Feeney. But the pass to Connors who had a clear overlap on the left three rucks late was ruled forward.
A try then would have brought the game alive but it instead the Knights ran away with the game with the big wind at their backs and the brave Titans, who started to turn over too much possession, wilting.
Tries to left winger Birch went down the short side from dummy half to score too easily to make it 30-12, then three minutes later centre Peni was over for the Knights with Donovan converting for 36-12 and a third Newcastle try in six minutes when Mata’utai made it a triple. Donovan’s conversion saw the score blow out from 26-12 to 42-12 in 20 minutes.
Newcastle Knights 42 (Mata’utai 3, Birch 2, Feeney, Fitzgibbon, Peni tries; Donovan 5 goals) beat iSelect Titans 12 (Hughes 2 tries; Elgey 2 goals).