A Manu Vatuvei hattrick today edged the New Zealand Warriors closer to the NRL finals.

The giant winger's hattrick set up a hard-fought 22-10 win over Newcastle in Auckland.

The result maintained the Warriors' playoff ambitions with three rounds to go but effectively ended the Knights' own hopes.

Vatuvei's triple strike took his season's tally to 17 tries from 15 appearances and left him just two short of Stacey Jones' club record of
77 tries.

His head-to-head battle with marker Akuila Uate had been the source of plenty of pre-match anticipation.

However, Uate, the season's top tryscorer with 20, found himself outplayed by the Kiwis international.

The Fijian flyer's best chance came early in the second half, when he broke free from the ruck area and look certain to score only to be cut down by Vatuvei.

Newcastle had the advantage of a strong breeze behind their backs in the opening half and showed some admirable ball security during that spell, completing their first 15 sets.

They put some early pressure on the Warriors, whose defence held up before Vatuvei put the home side ahead in the 17th minute.

In the Warriors' first real threatening attack, the ball was worked to the winger, who powered over in Uate's tackle.

However, the Knights levelled six minutes later, capitalising on a third repeat set.

From the line dropout, rugby-bound former Warrior Cooper Vuna easily rounded marker Bill Tupou to dot down in the corner.

Vatuvei restored the Warriors' lead three minutes from the interval via a pet play - halfback Brett Seymour kicked to Vatuvei's flank and the latter reined in the ball above Uate.

Five-eighth James Maloney landed a conversion from the sideline for a 10-4 halftime lead.

But the Knights struck back early in the second half.

After Uate was denied by Vatuvei, Vuna was held up over the line by Tupou.

But there was no stopping Dan Tolar, who scored under the posts thanks to an offload from fellow-interchange prop Richie Fa'aoso.

Kurt Gidley's conversion tied the contest at 10-10 before a Maloney penalty edged the Warriors back in front.

Halfback Brett Seymour then produced a 40-20 kick that gave the Warriors field position to put Vatuvei over for his third, again through Uate's tackle.

At 16-10 down, the Knight looked to have cut the deficit when replacement back Wes Naiqama dived over, but the pass from half Scott Dureau was ruled forward.

With three minutes to go, Tupou, who had grabbed his own hat-trick last weekend, sealed the result when he was first to an Ian Henderson kick to dot down.

New Zealand Warriors 22 (Manu Vatuvei 3, Bill Tupou tries; James Maloney 3 goals) Newcastle Knights 10 (Cooper Vuna, Dan Tolar tries; Kurt Gidley goal). Halftime: 10-4.

- NZ HERALD STAFF