Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown hopes his young playing group can take positives away from challenging the Melbourne Storm in parts of their Round 24 contest, despite a hefty 44-12 result against them.
The 32-point margin was not a true reflection of the first 60 minutes of the match, however the first-placed Storm lifted to another gear at the backend to run in a further four tries and secure their biggest win in the Hunter since 1999.
With an inexperienced line-up coming off the back of three-straight wins, the Knights were brought back down to earth by arguably the benchmark of the competition.
"For our younger players that's the level they have to aspire to get to," Brown said after the game.
"Physically they're big and strong but I thought we handled them a lot better in the first half than we did last time [in Round 13].
"They get their halves in good situations and do the small parts of the game very well."
Knights skipper Jamie Buhrer conceded the strike power across the park from Melbourne was too much for the Novocastrians to handle.
"I thought we were good in the first 10 minutes [after half-time] but they've got quality players that know how to finish things off and the game certainly got away from us," he said.
"They're the number one contender for the premiership and put pressure on you. They turn small chances into points and have got the players to do that."
Newcastle's finish to the Telstra Premiership season is a tough one with an away trip to Canberra to face the Raiders – who are still in finals contention – and a date with the premiers Cronulla on Old Boys Day in Round 26.
After a strong month of football, Brown admitted in-form half Brock Lamb would be a loss with fears he'd suffered a grade two medial knee injury in the loss.
"We've got a few blokes that are wounded," Brown said.
"That might be the end of [Brock] for the year. It's disappointing and made it hard, he's our number one kicker and creates a lot of chances for us.
"As long as it's a minor one and not anything major so he can have a good pre-season, that's the key for Brock.
"He's certainly put his hand up [this year] and showed he's got the talent."
Lamb wasn't the only injury concern to come out of the contest with Sione Mata'utia not returning for the second half due to a head knock – his third this season.
"I think anytime anyone gets a head knock with where things are these days it's a concern," Brown said.
"Sione has been and had all the right tests after his last one and was cleared of any worry at all. The first half he was strong and really changing the game for us."
Newcastle could receive a boost for next week's trip to Canberra with Nathan Ross on track for an early return from a back fracture.