NEWCASTLE'S hooker curse struck again as the Knights were beaten 26-16 by Melbourne Storm at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Sunday.
Having already lost Jayden Brailey (knee), Andrew McCullough (hamstring) and Connor Watson (Achilles) to season-ending injuries, the Knights suffered another casualty at dummy-half when Chris Randall and back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon clashed heads.
Both were taken from the field for head-injury assessments and were unable to return, leaving utility back Phoenix Crossland to fill the void as a stopgap No.9.
Melbourne had their own hooking dramas when skipper Cameron Smith was replaced in the first half after suffering a shoulder injury.
Knights competed enthusiastically in the first half but found themselves trailing 18-6 at the interval.
Melbourne opened the scoring in the fourth minute when they attacked Newcastle on the blind side and created an overlap for winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who crossed for his 10th try in eight games against the Knights.
Newcastle hit back three minutes later when dynamic Bradman Best beat two attempted tackles with left-foot steps to score a fine solo try, his seventh of the season.
Best finished the game limping, with his right ankle heavily strapped.
The Storm regained the lead in the 25th minute when Kenny Bromwich made a line break, and Smith backed up to score - despite a suspect final pass.
The Storm moved further ahead in the 33rd minute when fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen raced 90 metres to score after fielding a Kalyn Ponga grubber kick.
Newcastle replacement Pasami Saulo was sin-binned in the 51st minute after a dangerous hit on Jahrome Hughes while the Storm halfback was airborne following a clearing kick.
Hughes limped off soon after for treatment.
Newcastle gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the 63rd minute when veteran Aidan Guerra crashed over after a Ponga short ball.
But the Storm reasserted their authority in the 67th minute when giant forward Tino Faasuamaleaui burst through three tackles to score a bulldozing try.
Winger Enari Tuala scored in the 75th minute from a Kurt Mann grubber kick but the Knights were still 10 points in arrears.
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