THIS was the performance the Knights have been promising for some time. Though they produced it against a side lacking in form, confidence and luck, Brian Smith’s men will recognise this thumping victory as their best of the season so far.
They got things just right – turning on their usual brand of creative and expansive play while keeping mistakes to a minimum. Their defence was solid, the Roosters’ only try stemming from a slice of luck. Best not to get carried away, but Newcastle showed again they have the ingredients to go a long way in ’09, with top-drawer performers in the key positions of fullback, five-eighth, halfback and front row (and plenty of talent elsewhere). Six wins from their past seven starts has them on a roll only a very good team on any given day will be able to stop.
And the Roosters? They looked best in the sheds before the game, hugging one another and trying to fire up. That said, it would be a hard marker – or a lazy one – who would dismiss their performance as terrible. With Kiwi international Iosia Soliola bowing out with injury in the opening minutes, Craig Fitzgibbon following later and the side unable to take a trick from the referees, the Roosters kept trying but were suffocated by a dearth of possession in the first half (just a 35 per cent share) and a sense of futility in the second. The score wasn’t flattering, but few teams could have stayed with the free-flowing Knights in this form.
The Game Swung When… Zeb Taia notched his double midway through the second half, and suddenly the visitors’ confidence was in the clouds. The match had been tight to that point – and scoreless until the 17th minute. But from then on it was show time for the Knights, who completed 21 of 23 sets before the break.
Who Was Hot… Kurt Gidley, who right now may just be the best player in the comp; maybe not the most sensational, but the most polished and complete. On every touch, this guy takes just the right option. Like an amalgam of former Knights greats, he scooted from dummy-half like Danny Buderus, passed and probed like Andrew Johns and defused bombs like Robbie O’Davis. For good measure, he kicked seven goals from eight attempts. He waited till the last minute to remind us how elusive is the perfect display, dropping a dolly to squander a certain try.
Gidley had great support from hard-running centres Junior Sau and Cooper Vuna, as well as Taia, while a terrific display by Jarrod Mullen put him right back in contention for a Blues halves spot after he was overshadowed by Peter Wallace in Country-City.
Sam Perrett, lively at the back, was the Roosters’ best.
Who Was Not… Off the bench, Mark O’Meley hardly rediscovered the vigour coach Brad Fittler has demanded from him, though the big prop’s stats weren’t too bad. In a match in which the Roosters missed too many tackles, Setaimata Sa (six) was the worst offender.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… There’ll be few better tries scored this season than Mullen’s 35th-minute effort, which began with a break from deep in his own territory by Gidley, who flick-passed to Ben Rogers, who found Mullen looming on the inside.
Then, to end the scoring, big prop Danny Wicks did it again, breaking the Roosters’ line and using his speed to round the fullback. All that was missing was a celebratory back flip.
Bad Boys… None. The Roosters’ Nate Myles began the second half in the bin for a flop, but he was hard done by.
Refs Watch… If they weren’t so upset with their team, Roosters fans would be making voodoo dolls of Steve Lyons and Chris James, who caned the home side 10-4 in the penalties, several of which were pedantic.
Early on, Willie Mason was pinged for having the temerity to get up and the play the ball after being tackled (presumably no tackle had been called). The Roosters waited half-an-hour to receive their first penalty, and were on the sharp end of the 50-50 calls all night.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Kurt Gidley (Knights): As classy a performance as they come, including a whopping 257 metres with ball in hand; 2 points – Zeb Taia (Knights): Scored the Knights’ first two tries and amassed 159 metres; 1 point – Junior Sau (Knights): Proved a handful for the Roosters, finishing with 148 metres.
Knights 38 (J Mullen 2, Z Taia 2, C Vuna, D Wicks tries; K Gidley 7 goals) def Roosters 6 (J Tansey try; B Anasta goal) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 8, 611.