The NZ Warriors' hopes of back-to-back wins to start 2021 have been cruelly denied, falling to a 20-16 defeat against Newcastle Knights on the Central Coast.
A classy combination from the Knights' pair of centre Bradman Best and winger Hymel Hunt broke Warriors hearts late in Gosford, after the Kiwi side had rallied from 14-6 down to take a 16-14 advantage into the final 10 minutes.
Despite a number of sets and set restarts inside the Knights' half, the Warriors failed to strike first in a low scoring first spell.
Instead, that honour fell to Knights captain Jayden Brailey, who crossed over for the opening points of the game in the 16th minute, after the Warriors left a loose ball that half-back Chanel Harris-Tavita forced free from Newcastle's Tyson Frizell.
Down 6-0, the Warriors looked to have replied before the break, as an incisive play from Wayde Egan out of dummy half looked to have equalised for the Kiwi side.
But the bunker decided against the Warriors' hooker, ruling - somewhat harshly - that Egan didn't have control of the ball when he'd grounded it.
One play later though, the Warriors weren't denied, as Tohu Harris set up new recruit Ben Murdoch-Masila to score, crashing over from close range. The try was Murdoch-Masila's first in Warriors colours, and first in the NRL since 2013, albeit for Wests Tigers.
The Knights took the advantage into half-time thanks to the boot of Mitchell Barnett, who converted a penalty after Jazz Tevaga was placed on report for a knee to the head of Bradman Best.
Beginning the second-half down 8-6, the Warriors deficit was extended as Newcastle opened the scoring. A slick move across the Knights' left edge had Hunt cross over in the corner, thanks to a brilliant pass from Best.
Trailing by eight, the Warriors struck back twice. First through Adam Pompey - playing at centre in place of the injured Euan Aitken - who scored after an incisive run from captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Tuivasa-Sheck was involved again, as the Warriors took the lead for the first time, combining with Chanel Harris-Tavita to send Ken Maumalo over on the left flank.
Down 14-6, the Warriors had rallied to lead 16-14.
But it was Newcastle who'd have the final say, as Hunt and Best combined again, this time having the winger race over for his second of the night, as a clearly tired Warriors defence scrambled in vain.
Needing to go the length of the field and score in the last minute, the Warriors had one last real chance, as Bayley Sironen broke through the Knights line - only to see his offload fall in no-man's land, as Newcastle closed out the victory.
The Warriors will have the chance to bounce back in round three next week, taking on the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday.