BACK-TO-BACK losses by the Warriors had their fans worried and a last-start victory over the 2008 premiers had the Knights’ supporters optimistic heading into this match – and it wasn’t long before those feelings were exacerbated.
After early errors by both teams, the Knights opened the scoring in the 10th minute through Isaac De Gois after some great lead-up play by Scott Dureau and Ben Rogers. The Warriors hit back with a spectacular try to Wade McKinnon after some stunning vision from halfback Stacey Jones – but the Knights scored again twice before half-time to take an eight-point advantage into the break. It proved too much for the visitors despite a stunning late-match comeback.
The Game Swung When... Newcastle’s two tries at the end of the first half had a big influence. Tied at 6-all with seven minutes remaining before the break, the Knights ran the football close to the Warriors’ line and a spilt ball and a shift of hands saw the outside men pass to James McManus to stroll over untouched.
McManus held his wing moments later and it resulted in another four-pointer, this time after Gidley challenged McKinnon following a Jarrod Mullen bomb. Those two tries had a big impact, especially when taking into consideration the final scoreline.
Who Was Hot... Newcastle fullback Kurt Gidley continued his hot recent form with another match-winning performance for his team. Gidley dominated proceedings and kept his team in the best position throughout the match.
The NSW and Australian representative ran for a game-high 175 metres and provided an attacking threat the Warriors simply couldn’t deal with. His try assist and five tackle-breaks led his team to victory and keeps them entrenched in the top eight.
Who Was Not... Joel Moon’s afternoon started poorly and it didn’t get much better. In just the first set of six in the match he kicked out on the full looking to kick a 40/20 and came up with more errors throughout the clash.
While he broke the line twice, it was his total of three errors that proved costly for his side. While he’s especially strong in defence for a five-eighth, he’ll need to develop his combination with halfback Stacey Jones if his team is to become a premiership threat in 2009.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Wade McKinnon’s 20th-minute try shows the Warriors of old – the entertaining, hot-potato style of play – have not been completely left behind in this new era that centres around mistake-free football.
Following a Joel Moon bust and a great try-saving tackle from Gidley at the back, Kiwi legend Stacey Jones assessed the situation brilliantly and put in a sublime and beautifully weighted kick for McKinnon to fly onto. Kicking from the 35-metre mark, Jones placed the kick into the space Gidley vacated. It shows the legend still has all the skills and game awareness he had when he led the Warriors to the grand final in 2002.
Refs Watch... The dual-referee system continues to be a success and allow the game to be played at a great pace.
Referees Gavin Badger and Steve Lyons had a reasonable match – but that’s not to say either coach was happy with their performance. Warriors coach Ivan Cleary was angry Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley had not been sin-binned late in the match after holding back support player Denan Kemp following a break.
While Knights coach Brian Smith believed his star and captain might’ve been punished more severely than just a penalty, he also voiced concerns after being on the wrong side of a 5-0 second-half penalty count. The match count finished 6-3 in favour of the visitors.
Injuries... The Knights would’ve been worried early in the match when influential five-eighth Ben Rogers went down clutching his back after chasing a miscued Scott Dureau kick. Fans would’ve been glad to see him continue on for the duration of the match but there’s little doubt he’ll need attention this week.
The only other injury worry in the match was the early departure of Warriors fullback Wade McKinnon. He left with a hamstring injury, worrying signs after missing games in recent seasons with a back injury. Hopefully for Warriors fans the injury isn’t serious or related.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Kurt Gidley (Knights): Simply brilliant in both attack and defence; 2 points – James McManus (Knights): Scored two important tries and ran for 86 metres; 1 point – Russell Packer (Warriors): A barnstorming effort from the young prop including a try and 137 metres in just 54 minutes.
Knights 24 (J McManus 2, I De Gois, K Lulia, C Houston tries; K Gidley 2 goals) def Warriors 22 (W McKinnon, N Fien, R Packer, P Ah Van tries; D Kemp 3 goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Crowd: 13,626.