The Newcastle Knights have won their first game in eleven weeks and only their third of the season after accounting for the North Queensland Cowboys 36-28 at Hunter Stadium on Monday night.
With Kurt Gidley shifting to halfback for the game after coach Wayne Bennett deemed his move to hooker had been unsuccessful, the captain turned back the clock with a try of his own in the first half, putting together a cohesive performance alongside five-eighth Jarrod Mullen.
With the win, the Knights snapped up a seven game losing streak to pick themselves off the bottom of the ladder.
The Cowboys continued their struggles on the road with another loss away from 1300SMILES Stadium, as they had no answers for the Knights’ onslaught midway through the game.
While Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston continued his unhappy week after losing the Origin series with Queensland five days earlier, the same could not be said for Darius Boyd as he produced his best game of the year in the red and blue.
Though they went home with their tails between their legs, it wasn't all bad for the Cowboys though after posting the first points of the game in the third minute. With the Cowboys chasers running through from a Thurston bomb Newcastle fullback Boyd failed to bring it in, allowing for winger Antonio Winterstein to pick up the scraps and help the Cowboys to a 6-0 advantage.
With a small yet feisty crowd on their side, the Knights bounced back in the 13th minute thanks to a rock-solid backline movement that ended with centre Joey Leilua crossing for the Knights’ first points of the night.
While a Jeremy Smith one-on-one strip on Cowboys hooker Rory Kostjasyn seconds earlier proved important, a reunited halves pairing of Gidley and Mullen combined to put the returning Leilua away for his fifth try of the year.
The Knights managed to go back-to-back through to their Origin duo Beau Scott and Darius Boyd in the 22nd minute. While the Newcastle teammates were opponents last Wednesday night they had no worries combining after back-rower Scott barnstormed his way downfield after pushing a defending Johnathan Thurston aside to pass off to a supporting Boyd for a momentum shifting 10-6 advantage.
Captain Gidley was next to post points for the Knights after a solo effort with five minutes remaining in the half. Seemingly rejuvenated following his return to the backline, Gidley appeared ready to throw the ball out wide but chose otherwise after stepping off his right foot and crawling his way towards his first try of the season.
After being rewarded with three sets downfield with the Knights getting a hand to the ball twice the Cowboys were very unlucky not to get across the line in the dying stages of the half. Newcastle were in the same boat seconds later when winger Akuila Uate was called back from a length of the field effort, the referees ruling that he knocked the ball on as the siren sounded.
The game well and truly turned after halftime, with the Knights up 16-6 as they turned absolutely nothing into another four points in the 50th minute. With Mullen handing the ball off Dane Gagai, the young centre was able to snap past Johnathan Thurston and run away from back-rower Ethan Lowe to touch down in the corner and extend his team's advantage to 22-6.
The Cowboys could do nothing to stem the Knights’ momentum as they again crossed two minutes later. It started only 30 metres out from their line when back-rower Robbie Rochow charged his way downfield and offloaded to a supporting Darius Boyd. Fresh off representing Queensland only five days earlier Boyd streaked 50 metres downfield, drawing in the Cowboys’ support before handing it off to Tyrone Roberts to extend their lead to 22.
Though the Cowboys hit back in the 62nd minute through Tariq Sims to bring it back to a 28-10 scoreline, the Knights reciprocated with a try of their own three minutes later. It was Gagai again, assisted by the quick feet and hands of Boyd – the fullback solidifying Thurston's unhappy night in defence.
While Robert Lui caught the Knights’ defence napping twice and Curtis Rona scoring in the dying stages of the game it would be Newcastle’s night after Uate charged over in the 72nd minute to seal the game for a desperate Knights outfit.
There were three injury concerns to come out of the game, with Ray Thompson (hamstring) and Rory Kostjasyn (ribs) leaving the field, and Knights hooker Adam Clydsdale carried off late in the contest.
Knights 36 (Gagai 2, Leilua, Boyd, Gidley, Roberts, Uate Tries; Gidley 4 Goals) defeated Cowboys 28 (Lui 2, Rona, Winterstein, Sims Tries; Thurston 4 Goals) at Hunter Stadium. Crowd: 11,925.