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Knights premiers in epic Harold Matthews finale
The Newcastle Knights completed their perfect season in the most dramatic way, scoring a thrilling 26-20 extra time victory over the Manly Sea Eagles in the Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval.
A barnstorming try in extra time to Jaron Purcell when Manly was expecting an attempt at field goal sealed the win, closing out a decider for the ages.
Newcastle trailed by four points with under ten seconds to play, before a try in the corner to Patrick Achurch gave the Knights a chance to win the game after the siren, which was unsuccessful.
The win gives the Knights their third win in the under 16's competition, and gives them an unbeaten season. Lock Jaron Purcell earned man of the match honours.
Both sides took a few sets to get into their groove as they got a feel for each other in the opening stages of the game. Manly had the vast majority of the early running, and forced multiple repeat sets through the boot of Kaeo Weekes.
The Sea Eagles thought they had scored in the ninth minute when winger Uluaki Tuipulotu dived over in the corner, only for it to be ruled forward. Tuipulotu thought his luck had changed just minutes later when he was on the end of another spectacular pass from Weekes, only for it to be ruled forward again.
After dominating field position and possession, Manly were the first to register points, when Keegan Turner scored from close range on the far touchline, breaking the deadlock after 13 minutes of play.
Newcastle received a rare opportunity with the ball after a penalty, but failed to convert after making an error. Manly would make them pay just four minutes later when Filimaua Filimaua-Tau barged his way over to extend the lead to ten.
Manly had to do a fair bit of defensive work of their own in the following sets, and looked set to shut the Knights out in the first half, before Rylee Meyn collected a grubber kick on the stroke of half-time to give Newcastle a much needed try.
The second half started in the worst possible way for the Novacastrians, as they dropped the ball on the second tackle, gifting Manly quality field position. They would make the most of it, with Joshua Schuster carrying three defenders over the try-line to give Manly a ten-point buffer once again.
The Knights managed to keep themselves in the game, and ate into the deficit six minutes later as a quality kick reception from Malie Townsend got the Knights into enemy territory, and Christian Ma'anaima was too big and strong just a few tackles later, crossing the line and getting themselves right back into the contest.
Newcastle maintained their momentum in the ensuing sets, and found themselves in the lead for the first time as Tuipulotu failed to regather a kick, allowing Meyn to weave his way through a number of defenders and score his second.
After an arm-wrestle for the next period of play, Manly found themselves back in the Newcastle half, and were able to hit back when Albert Hopoate burst onto a short ball, scoring underneath the posts and giving the Sea Eagles a 20-16 lead with seven minutes to play.
Newcastle Knights (26)
Tries: Riley Meyn 2, Christian Ma'anaima, Maile-J Townsend, Jaron Purcell
Goals: Max Buderus 3