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A terrific defensive effort in the early stages and a late comeback weren't enough to get Brisbane over the line against Newcastle on Thursday, but coach Kevin Walters said the fight shown by his team has come on leaps and bounds in the past month.

The Knights spent the opening 10 minutes of the match camped on Brisbane's tryline but the Broncos' defence held firm and they swung the momentum with the opening try through Tesi Niu after 13 minutes.

Newcastle grabbed control of the match with three tries early in the second half on the way to a 28-20 win, but Walters said there were some real positives for his team.

"I'm really proud of their effort. That's something that we hadn't seen from them, except for the last month. I'm happy that that continued tonight in some shape or form," Walters said.

"I think it was nine minutes before we touched the ball. The Knights were throwing some pretty good shape at them as well, so [to defend that] that's pleasing.

"They're still learning, and that 15-minute period in the second half was the killer for us. We were coming home strong, as we knew we would given [the Knights] had a short turnaround, but we just couldn't quite close the gap.

"There is lots of fight in that side, and great evidence of it there tonight. We lost, which no one's happy with, but some more pleasing signs on what we're building here at the Broncos."

Match Highlights: Knights v Broncos

The result means the Broncos will miss out on finals football for the second straight year after collecting the wooden spoon for the first time in club history in 2020.

"It's very disappointing. It's very uncharacteristic of our club. But we're fighting, everyone's working hard to get us back on track," Walters said.

"There were some good signs there tonight but probably not for the 80 minutes – which is what the great Broncos sides of the past have done, but this one's still learning.

"We'll get there though, I'm very confident in this group. They've come so far in the last four or five weeks, and that's just the starting point for us.

"We've just got to get the right roster in place to do that, and I think this year has been about shaping the roster to make a charge for it. Next year coming in we've got some classy, experienced players.

"And let's not forget that Kotoni Staggs – who is probably one of our best players – has played four games for us in the season. If he plays double that, I'm pretty sure we're playing finals footy."

Niu gets on the outside of Best to score

Brodie Croft was substituted for Albert Kelly with 20 minutes remaining but Walters insisted the halfback wasn't hooked for a poor performance.

"I was just looking for a bit of spark from Albert Kelly. Crofty didn't do anything wrong, he was playing his normal very good game, but I just felt we needed to generate something on that left side with some of the shapes we were throwing we were getting some good results. I thought Albie could help us there.

"Maybe [using Kelly] a little earlier in hindsight would've been beneficial, but easy in hindsight."