NRL | Newcastle hooker Slade Griffin comes up with a tackle-of-the-year contender as the Knights go down fighting 18-16 to the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium

It was the bone-crunching try-saver that brought instant acclaim from team-mates and a sizeable McDonald Jones Stadium crowd to its feet on Saturday night.

But while Slade Griffin’s try-line heroics in the first half against the Sydney Roosters to prevent Isaac Liu scoring a certain try did not ultimately lead to a Newcastle victory, it did epitomise his side’s new-found steel in defence.

Despite being without five regular top-graders and losing Jamie Buhrer to a season-ending knee injury before half time, the Knights took the star-studded title contenders to the wire and could easily have pinched the competition points during a frantic final few minutes before going down 18-16.

Try time: Newcastle centre Sione Mata'utia gets rid of three defenders before scoring his side's opening try in the Knights' 18-16 loss to the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP

Try time: Newcastle centre Sione Mata'utia gets rid of three defenders before scoring his side's opening try in the Knights' 18-16 loss to the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night. Picture: Darren Pateman/AAP

It was a performance laced with spirit and effort with the home side left to rue several missed opportunities and poor options in attack where the experience of a Mitchell Pearce at the helm may have made all the difference.

The pressure from the Roosters defence on young halfback Jack Cogger was immense and a world away from the freedom he enjoyed the previous week against Parramatta.

In stitches: A patched-up Shaun Kenny-Dowall on the charge.

In stitches: A patched-up Shaun Kenny-Dowall on the charge.

It was a telling factor with the Knights’ kicking game below par and contributed to a disappointing end to many of their attacking sets.

Collared: Slade Griffin prevents James Tedesco from cutting loose.

Collared: Slade Griffin prevents James Tedesco from cutting loose.

But what should ensure every one of the 18,029 fans who braved the weather to attend and plenty of others who didn’t, to turn up on Sunday to support the side against the Storm was the Knights’ effort defensively.

You have to almost do a double take to realise this was the same side who crumbled so badly a fortnight ago in a 38 point loss to the Sharks.

Coach Nathan Brown believes the penny finally dropped for his side after the Sharks mauling.

“As a group without singling anyone out, while the Cronulla game wasn’t a great day for us, it may have been the thing that helped turn our defence around,” Brown said.

Co-captain Aidan Guerra added:

“For us, we didn’t take a backward step. I young pack coming up against a side full of internationals, I commended the boys after the game.

“That’s an effort that although we didn’t get the two points, it’s one we can keep building off.”

As for his try-saver on Lui, Griffin said it was the sort of effort play everyone in the side has now committed to.

“I just saw the hole open up there after the kick and I saw him [Lui] get it and I just threw everything I had at him pretty much,” he said.

“I knew I couldn’t hold him up so I had to hit with everything I had and hope for the best and was lucky enough to knock the ball free.” 

The Knights led 8-6 at the time but trialed 12-8 at halftime and 16-8 early in the second half after two Blake Ferguson tries.

It was 18-10 when Kalyn Ponga and Sione Mata’utia brilliantly combined for the star fullback to score to set up an exhilarating few minutes at the death.