A patchy performance against an inspired Knights outfit has seen the Warriors limp out of Hunter Stadium with their top eight position hanging in the balance.
For the second week in a row the Warriors drifted in and out of a game against a side wallowing at the bottom of the NRL ladder, and lapses in defence and poor execution combined to hurt them.
Despite the return of Shaun Johnson from a three-week injury absence and the shift of veteran Thomas Leuluai into hooker, the Warriors lacked composure at crucial stages. After fighting back from an early 14-0 deficit to draw level and later again to make it 28-22, they failed to engineer points when it mattered.
"When we had the ball and put a bit of pressure on I thought we looked threatening but we just didn't do that enough," captain Simon Mannering said. "When we did the results came and we still had a chance at the end but it wasn't to be."
The hosts followed Cronulla's second-phase plan from last week's tight tussle at Mt Smart Stadium, with 15 offloads to the Warriors six, keeping the defence working overtime.
A hattrick to 18-year-old Knights winger Sione Mata'utia and tries to his brother Chanel, and Joey Leilua, and four Kurt Gidley goals overcame the Warriors' five tries, with David Fusitu'a and Manu Vatuvei both posting doubles and Nathan Friend also scoring, while Chad Townsend managed just one goal from five attempts.
"It was a missed opportunity for us. We played some good football but just gifted the opposition to many points," coach Andrew McFadden said. "We created enough opportunities, probably over-played a couple of times but we scored five tries and enough points to win the game. We need to be a better defensive side it's as simple as that."
Three straight attacking sets allowed the Knights early attacking possession before Jarrod Mullen's kick found Mata'utia for his first NRL try after 10 minutes. The Knights maintained the upper hand and despite defending admirably, the pressure soon told on the Warriors, when Leilua danced his way over for their second. Newcastle then benefited from a scrum win on their own 10 metre line, when Leilua fed Mata'utia to race 90 metres for his second.
Errors began creeping into the Knights play and the Warriors capitalised six minutes from the break, when a trademark diving one-handed put-down gave Fusitu'a their first try. Shortly after it was Vatuvei cleaning up a bouncing ball and sauntering in to help them back to within four at halftime.
A rare dummy-half dart from Friend put the Warriors level with their third score early in the second-half, but a penalty and line-drop out kept the Knights within range, before Mata'utia's third and a second goal from Gidley put them six clear. Ill-discipline gave Gidley another two points and Chanel Mata'utia's try soon after had the Warriors staring down the barrel.
Fusitu'a's second gave them hope but a late shot from Mateo on Tyrone Roberts saw Gidley goal again, only for Vatuvei to get his second to set-up a dramatic finish.
"We definitely have to win next week against the Roosters. If we win our last three games we could potentially sneak into fifth or sixth it's just about getting some confidence in our performance," said McFadden.
Knights 28 (Sione Mata'utia 3, Joey Leilua, Chanel Mata'utia tries; Kurt Gidley 4 from 7 goals)
Warriors 22 (David Fusitu'a 2, Manu Vatuvei 2, Nathan Friend tries; Chad Townsend 1 from 5 goals)