The Dyldam Parramatta Eels have been defeated 34-30 by Holden Cup competition leaders Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
The Blue and Gold forwards were boosted for the Round 25 match with Kelepi Tanginoa returning from injury into the side, and Pauli Pauli returning from NRL and VB NSW cup duties.
The opening ten minutes were marked by missed opportunities for both under 20s sides, until Jake Mamo leapt from the defensive line to grab the Eels bomb, running 80 minutes to open the scoring.
Fullback Nathan Davis returned fire for the Blue and Gold, taking the pass a metre out to topple over for a try.
The blow-for-blow continued as Knights second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbons scooped up a chip from his five-eighth Jaelen Feeney in-goal to score, while Eels captain Ryan Matterson was too hard to stop bursting through the defensive line.
And while second-rower Tyrell Fuimaono handed the Eels the lead with a leaping try late in the half, the Knights capitalised on a penalty in the dying seconds to send both sides back to the sheds locked 16-16.
With Pauli Pauli placed on report for a hit on the Newcastle kicker, the Knights chose to take the tap, and Lachlan Fitzgibbon grabbed the James de Saxe offload to tie up the scoreboard at the break.
It was a fired up Knights side that started the second half, dangerous on three or four occasions before sending Donovan in to score in the corner.
While Feeney’s kick was waved away, the Knights followed up with a dummy-half scoot to score from hooker Danny Levi.
But with short offload from Leva Li for Fabian Goodall to barge over in the corner for the Blue and Gold, momentum swung, and the Eels reined the Knights in try-by-try to hit the lead for the first time in the match.
A great solo effort from Ryan Matterson saw the captain get his second of the day, while Nathan Davis was too skilful, grabbing a Kaysa Pritchard kick and running 15 metres to score under the posts and give the Eels a 30-26 lead.
But as the clock ticked down to full-time, Knights winger Josh Birch snuck around the right side edge to level the match at 30-30 between the first-place Knights and the fourth-placed Eels.
Jack Cogger followed him with a solid run to score with just 6 minutes on the clock, leaving the Eels trailing 34-30.
And while Knights half Jack Cogger was taken from the field by the medical in the final minutes, the home side held on for a four-point win to retain their place at the top of the Holden Cup ladder.
Dyldam Parramatta Eels - 30 (Davis 2, Matterson 2, Fuimaono, Goodall. Dockar-Clay: 3/6)
Newcastle Knights - 34 (Mamo, Fitzgibbons 2, Donovan, Levi, Birch, Cogger. Donovan: 2/3, Feeney: 0/1 Robson: 1/3)