NEWCASTLE 10 MELBOURNE 23

Man of influence: the Storm's Billy Slater.

Man of influence: The Storm's Billy Slater. Photo: Getty Images

The gulf between the Newcastle Knights and the NRL's top four teams remained as wide as ever after they were beaten 23-10 by Melbourne Storm at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.

In five games against the top four this season – the Roosters, South Sydney, Manly and Melbourne – the Knights have a 0-5 record.

It was Newcastle's seventh successive loss to the Storm and second this season.

Time
80.00
Team
NEW
Score
10
Team
MEL
Score
23
Newcastle versus Melbourne
View Match Statistics
Players Leilua, Uate Tries 2 Tries 4 Players McLean, Smith, Slater, Norrie
Players Gidley 0/2 (0%) Conversions 0 Conversions 3 Players Smith 3/4 (75%)
Players Gidley 1/1 (100%) Penalty goals 1 Penalty goals 0 Players
Players Field goals 0 Field goals 1 Players Cronk 1/1 (100%)

Sunday's win lifted Melbourne to third on the ladder on 33 points, leapfrogging Manly.

Newcastle remained seventh on 25 points but are now three points behind fifth-placed Canterbury and sixth-placed Cronulla.

With games remaining against North Queensland and Brisbane (both away) and Parramatta (home), the Knights probably need two wins to assure themselves of a spot in the play-offs.

Conversly, premiers Melbourne have now won three games in a row and appear to be timing their run into the business end of the season with typical precision.

Boosted by a crowd of 26,822 – their best this season – the Knights dominated the first half, scarcely making an error and enjoying a 6-1 penalty count in their favour.

But despite the home team's apparent superiority, their lead at the interval was only 8-4.

Centre Joey Leilua opened the scoring for Newcastle in the 25th minute, diving over out wide after halfback Tyrone Roberts and back-rower Robbie Rochow created an overlap.

Seven minutes laer, winger Akuila Uate scored on the opposite flank after catching a Jarrod Mullen chip kick and outpacing Storm fullback Billy Slater to the line.

Kurt Gidley missed both conversion attempts from near the sidelines.

The Storm struck back in the final minute of the half when heavyweight bench forward Jordan McLean crashed through a Chris Houston tackle to score next to the posts.

Surprisingly, Storm skipper Cameron Smith's simple conversion attempt rebounded off the left upright.

Smith made amends eight minutes into the second half when he caught Newcastle's defence napping with a dummy-half dart to score his second try of the season.

His conversion made it 10-8 to the visitors.

Gidley equalised six minutes later when Storm halfback Cooper Cronk was penalised for tackling Darius Boyd without the ball.

The Storm regained the lead in the 61st minute when Slater scored a trademark try from a Cronk chip kick.

Smith's goal made it 16-10, then a Cronk field goal in the 72nd minute gave Melbourne a seven-point buffer.

Storm prop Bryan Norris crashed over for a rare try in the final minute.

Already without Willie Mason (calf), Jeremy Smith (back), Craig Gower (neck) and Adam Cuthbertson (groin), the Knights suffered a further blow late in the first half when bench forward David Fa'alogo suffered a suspected fractured eye socket and was replaced.

MELBOURNE 23 (J McLean B Norrie B Slater C Smith tries C Smith 3 goals C Cronk field goal) bt NEWCASTLE 10 (J Leilua A Uate tries K Gidley goal) at Hunter Stadium. Referee: Jared Maxwell, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 26,822.