The seventh-placed Newcastle Knights have avenged last year's grand final loss and secured a spot in the NRL State Championship by beating local rivals Wyong Roos 20-10 to win the VB NSW Cup grand final.
A considerable upset considering the Roos were just one point in differential from finishing the regular season with the minor premiership, a hattrick from winger Honeti Tuha helped book the Knights a spot on grand final day next Sunday against Intrust Super Cup champions Ipswich thanks to a hattrick from winger Honeti Tuha.
With their 48-12 loss to the Panthers in last year's decider acting as a motivator, the Knights held off a desperate Wyong outfit in the final quarter of the game to emerge New South Wales champions.
However, it was Wyong who got the ball rolling in the 11th minute when centre Nathan Smith burst past Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Carlos Tuimavave to score. It came at his detriment however when he was sent off the field for a concussion test after copping an accidental knee from Jake Mamo.
Smith's direct replacement Jack Siejka looked to have extended the Roos' lead three minutes later after pouncing on an Omar Slaimankhel grubber, but it was ruled by video referees Phil Cooley and Sean Hampstead that he dropped it.
Reversing their fortunes, Newcastle hit a 6-4 lead in the 16th minute when Tuha scored his first thanks to the handy footwork and speed of centre partner Kerrod Holland – who made the VB NSW Cup Team of the Year earlier on Sunday.
Holland scored one himself two minutes later thanks to the offloading prowess of back-rower Fitzgibbon. With three defenders on him Fitzgibbon handed it off to halfback Jaelen Feeney who passed on to the centre to score.
In a game containing plenty of feeling after several earlier scuffles, Mamo and Wyong five-eighth Jono Ford found themselves in the sin-bin after involving themselves in a disagreement between Joe Tapine and Nathan Stapleton – with the latter placed on report after the Knights centre accused him of eye gouging.
Making the most of the 12 v 12 situation, Tuha scored his second in the 38th minute after outpacing Elliot in a long-range 60 metre effort to ensure Newcastle's 14-4 half-time lead.
Newcastle's Jacob Saifiti was unlucky not to have scored in the 51st minute, though the video referees ruled that Slaimankhel had grounded his knock-on in-goal before the back-rower had grounded it.
Even after Ford's 80 metre drop out following Saifiti's no try it didn't stop the Knights and Tuha scoring his third try of the game a minute later. It came from a barnstorming run from Holland who broke through two Roos which allowed him to send it out to his tightrope-running winger to score.
Newcastle forward Tama Koopu was penalised for a high shot and concussed in one fell swoop in the 63rd minute, but the good territory wasn't enough for Wyong to score with Abraham Papalii denied by a forward pass.
Wyong's Smith scored his second of the game in the 69th minute when the Roos caught Holland and Tuha short out wide to cut the deficit to 10 points – but by then it was too late, as the Knights were controversially denied the chance to extend their lead when Sam Mataora was denied by a double movement late on in the game.
Newcastle Knights 20 (Honeti Tuha 3, Kerrod Holland Try; Kerrod Holland, George Ndaira Goal) defeated Wyong Roos 10 (Nathan Smith 2 Tries; Tyler Cornish Goal) at Pirtek Stadium. Half-time: Knights 14-4. On Report: Nathan Stapleton (Roos) – eye gouge; Michael Steele (Knights) – forearm to the head.