Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
A field goal to rookie halfback Scott Dureau three minutes into goal-point extra time gave Newcastle a heartstopping 13-12 NRL victory over Manly at Energy Australia Stadium.
The victory kept the Knights unbeaten and consigned the Sea Eagles - beaten grand finalists in 2007 - to their second successive loss of the new season.
Newcastle looked dead and buried trailing 12-2 late in the game before mounting a spirited comeback. But the Knights still looked to have blown it when replacement forward Richie Fa'aoso spilt the ball with the line wide open with just under four minutes left on the clock.
But Fa'aoso turned villain to hero when he steamed onto an inside ball from five-eighth Jarrod Mullen with two minutes and 20 seconds remaining to give the Knights hope.
Fullback Kurt Gidley calmly slotted the conversion to tie the game up and send the match into overtime before Dureau performed his heroics in only his third first-grade game to send the local crowd of 18,117 into a frenzy with his field goal from 30 metres out.
The thrilling finish capped a dramatic night in which Manly's former Newcastle crowd favourite Josh Perry was placed on report for a headbutt on Knights forward Danny Wicks and the video referee was again in the spotlight.
Manly fans had good reason to cry foul after Englishmen Russell Smith made two highly contentious calls against the Eagles.
First, with Manly trailing 2-0, Eagles hooker Matt Ballin was denied what looked a perfectly legitimate try in the 21st minute.
Newcastle fullback Gidley spilt a Matt Orford bomb and Ballin collected the loose ball and raced 20 metres to touch down.
But Smith adjudged Manly second rower Anthony Watmough, who was not in any way involved in the play, had been offside from Orford's kick and awarded the Knights a penalty.
Then, in the 53rd minute with Manly clinging to a 6-2 lead, Smith curiously awarded the visitors a penalty instead of a try to winger Michael Bani when Newcastle five-eighth was pinged for a strip.
From the strip, Newcastle centre Keith Lulia knocked on, Manly centre Steve Bell regathered and offloaded to Bani, who crossed for the Eagles - only for the "no try - penalty" to flash up on the large screen.
The NRL can do without having video referees making headlines for all the wrong reasons so early in the new season.
There was no denying Bani in the 57th minute when he crossed out wide and Orford converted to put the Eagles up 12-2.
An opportunist's try to five-eighth Jamie Lyon on the half hour had given Manly a 6-2 halftime lead.
Lyon swooped on a loose ball in the Newcastle in-goal area after Gidley - under no great pressure - spilt a second Orford bomb to gift the Eagles the lead.