WENDELL Sailor was winning the battle early but Adam MacDougall won the war of words as the Knights came from behind to win their third game on the trot and knock the Dragons off the top of the NRL table.
Sailor may have scored two tries to MacDougall’s one but the brash winger finished the match sitting on the bench with his leg wrapped in bandages while his counterpart celebrated a victory.
The lead-up to the match was dominated by Sailor and MacDougall’s verbal stoushes and the two didn’t disappoint on game day. After being sounded out by Sailor after each of his first-half tries, MacDougall kept his cool and by the end of the match had great delight in suggesting the dual international should add some Kenny Rogers to his ipod play list, in particular the song ‘The Gambler’.
“You never celebrate at the table,” MacDougall explained in reference to the ‘You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money, when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done,’ part of the iconic ballad. The advice certainly rang true as the premature excitement y turned around and bit Sailor on his backside.
Newcastle coach Brian Smith can now celebrate his first win over Wayne Bennett since 2005.
The Game Swung When… The Knights put on three tries in seven minutes shortly after half-time. Having played into a stiff breeze in the first half the visitors trailed 14-6 at the break but when they gained the advantage in the second stanza they were quick to make the most of it.
Junior Sau started the party in the 45th minute, hooker Isaac De Gois got into the act in the 60th minute and Adam MacDougall streaked over after 62 minutes to turn the eight-point deficit into a 24-14 lead. While the Dragons managed to get back within a converted try with 13 minutes left in the match they couldn’t get close enough.
Their chances were extinguished by two poor Dan Hunt errors inside the final seven minutes. The first came when he decided to run the ball from dummy-half on the last tackle with the Dragons in prime attacking position, the second came in the final two minutes when he coughed up the ball from a regulation hit-up just a metre from the try line.
Who Was Hot… Knights’ hooker Isaac De Gois was extremely busy on his way to 43 tackles and was a constant headache for the Dragons’ defenders. The former Shark also grabbed a crucial try.
Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley was also his usual effervescent self, popping up and around when needed to ensure the Knights continued their go-forward, while prop Ben Cross (11 hit-ups, 32 tackles) was a tower of strength and by all reports lifted his side with a stirring half-time rant.
For the Dragons winger Wendell Sailor backed up his mouth before he was injured, while Jamie Soward was a joy to watch in the first half.
Who Was Not… The Dragons are still struggling in attack with the exception of Jamie Soward’s kicking game. While Ben Hornby did lay on a try late the home side didn’t really pose any questions to the Knights’ defence when it came to running the football. Wayne Bennett insists the attack will come in time but it’s now six rounds in and not looking too dangerous.
Prop Dan Hunt won’t want to watch the replay of this game, particularly the final 10 minutes where he cut short any faint hopes the Dragons had of tying up the match.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… If Jamie Soward’s cross-field kick to set up Wendell Sailor’s first try wasn’t classy enough, his second try assist of the match was over-the-top brilliant – literally. The Dragons’ five-eighth shaped to kick but ran to the line before chipping left-footed. Before the Knights’ defence could react, Soward had regathered his kick on the full and fired a no-look long ball out to the right wing for Sailor to chalk up his second try.
While there is no doubt Soward is revelling in the fact his kicks face less pressure due to kick protection laws, he still needs to execute to take advantage, and in this case he executed to perfection. Unfortunately, though, it counted for nothing in the final wash-up.
The Knights’ best try came through MacDougall after halves Jarrod Mullen and Ben Rogers combined from near halfway. Mullen ran to the line before putting Rogers through a gap and the former Dragon drew the last line of defence before sending MacDougall over.
Injuries… Dragons’ replacement hooker Luke Priddis didn’t last long before succumbing to a medial ligament strain that will no doubt see him miss some football in the coming weeks. Big Winger Wendell Sailor was forced from the field after 53 minutes with a hamstring complaint.
Bad Boys… There were no noticeable bad boys in the contest.
Refs Watch… Jason Robinson and Gerard Sutton had a direct result on this clash with all points except for the last Dragons try coming off the back of penalties.
It certainly highlights the importance of discipline in the NRL these days. With penalties comes field position and both sides were able to capitalise when the chances came off the back of the whistle.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Isaac De Gois (Knights): Directed traffic for his side throughout the night, scored a crucial try and also added 43 tackles. Deservedly gained praise from his coach post-match; 2 points – Kurt Gidley (Knights): The Knights’ skipper is in just about everything Newcastle does and does it well. Was impressive on kick-returns, ran from dummy-half with authority and played as a third playmaker at vital times in the match; 1 point – Jamie Soward (Dragons): First half was superb, laying on two great tries and giving his side a great opportunity to win, one they sadly didn’t take.
Knights 24 (R Fa’aoso, J Sau, I De Gois, A MacDougall tries; K Gidley 4 goals) def Dragons18 (W Sailor 2, J Saffy tries; J Soward 3 goals) at WIN Jubilee Stadium. Crowd: 14,477.