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Knights’ brave finals charge ends in New Zealand

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The Newcastle Knights’ brave campaign came to an end at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors 40-10 on Saturday.

Despite enjoying a 10-match winning streak, the Hunter boys appeared shell-shocked by the ferocity of their opponents in the opening exchanges at Go Media Stadium, Auckland, on 16 September.

Within the first 12 minutes, New Zealand – buoyed by a huge home crowd and a resurgent Shaun Johnson – put Newcastle on the back foot, with three early tries.

However, to the Knights’ credit, they refused to give up, despite entering the fixture without injured stars Daniel Saifiti, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Jackson Hastings.

The Warriors struck within minutes, following a mistake from Knights winger Greg Marzhew, when fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad sliced through. Although Adam Pompey missed the kick, New Zealand led 4-0.

Almost immediately, the hosts went on the attack again and, this time, prop Addin Fonua-Blake scored the easiest of tries. Pompey added the extras for a 10-0 advantage.

In the 12th minute, a brilliant Johnson, Te Maire Martin and Pompey combined to send winger Marcelo Montoya over in the corner. Pompey raised the flags and the margin to 16-0.

Newcastle finally got on the scoreboard midway through the opening half, courtesy of a beautiful backline movement, which resulted in a four-pointer to Marzhew. Kalyn Ponga failed to convert and the visitors trailed 16-4.

A desperate Knights then held New Zealand, who launched a few attacking raids, at bay until the break.

Newcastle began the second period in terrific fashion.

Under-rated halfback Adam Clune threw a dummy and found a rampaging Dylan Lucas in support. Ponga reduced the gap to 16-10 with a successful conversion.

But, the side’s joy quickly evaporated.

Following a strong break by captain Tohu Harris, after a set restart, interchange player Dylan Walker barged over close to the uprights. Pompey made no mistake, pushing the Warriors ahead 22-10.

In the 59th minute, New Zealand placed another dagger in the hearts of Knights’ fans, when centre Rocco Berry overpowered two defenders to ground the ball. Pompey landed his fourth goal of the afternoon, stretching the lead to 28-10.

Newcastle suffered another blow when Kurt Mann was ruled out due to an HIA.

The Warriors put the issue beyond doubt in the 64th minute, when tryscoring machine Dallin Watene-Zelezniak added his name to the list. Pompey sent it over the black dot for 34-10.

Unfortunately, the Knights couldn’t breach the New Zealand defence again.

And, a try to Bayley Sironen, converted by Pompey, iced the 40-10 triumph.

The victory means the Warriors now tackle the Brisbane Broncos in the grand final qualifier at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 23 September, while defending champions Penrith Panthers will lock horns with the Melbourne Storm in the other encounter at Accor Stadium on Friday 22 September.

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