The Canberra Raiders have been defeated for the first time in 2020 after falling to the Newcastle Knights 34-18 in Campbelltown on Sunday.
The Raiders trailed by as much as 22 midway through the second half but the comeback ultimately fell short.
Newcastle struck first following an error from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad with centre Bradman Best crossing in the second minute.
The Raiders looked like they were about to hit back after a cut-out ball from George Williams found Jack Wighton who then found Jarrod Croker, only for Croker failing to link up with his winger.
Newcastle extended their lead in the 21st minute after an error from Wighton forced the Raiders to defend in their own half and Kalyn Ponga sliced through to score untouched.
A penalty gifted the Raiders some valuable field territory and had a set on Newcastle’s try line, but they fell short on the final play of the set.
The Knights continued to pepper the Raiders defensive line, but Canberra were able to survive after a pass from Ponga went astray and Wighton was able to clean up the loose ball.
A successful Captain’s Challenge and a penalty in the subsequent play allowed the Raiders to march down the field and they were able to strike back.
A beautiful kick from George Williams found a flying Wighton who leapt above the pack and slammed the football down to put the Green Machine on the board with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Newcastle had their third try of the afternoon through a penalty try for Enari Tuala 90 seconds before halftime and the Raiders headed to the sheds 16-6 down.
Newcastle delivered a blow to hopes of a comeback after former Raiders winger Edrick Lee scored in the corner in the fifth minute of the second half.
Lee soon had a double after some slick hands from Newcastle’s backline and extended the lead to 22.
Canberra needed something special to spark any hope of a revival and after a short kick-off they successfully regathered, the Raiders struck back immediately.
Williams had his second assist for the afternoon off the boot after finding a leaping Nick Cotric, Croker was able to convert out wide to cut the lead to 16.
Canberra were able to go back-to-back after forcing an error inside the opposition half and Papalii was able to bounce off a few would-be tackles to bring his side right back into the contest.
Wighton was taken off for a HIA after receiving a knock which allowed Jordan Rapana to enter the field for the first time in the clash.
The Raiders threw plenty at the Knights defensive line but were not able to crack the stubborn Knights defence.
Newcastle looked certain to put the cherry on top but a desperate hand from Curtis Scott just before the line forced the ball lose and gave the Raiders a chance with five minutes to go.
Canberra chanced their arm with just over three minutes to go and forced a repeat set after a Williams kick was battered dead.
In the subsequent set, the Raiders failed to pounce on the field position and Best was able to make the Raiders pay for their error with his second of the afternoon and the Knights held on.