In a game of two halves at Energy Australia Stadium, Newcastle were out-played in the first half before emerging from the sheds to bury the Bunnies on Monday evening.
Souths were pretty good in the first half; they took advantage of Newcastle’s dropped ball to post a couple of good tries.
But in the second stanza, it was like there was only one team on the field. The Knights ran and ran and ran at the Bunnies, holding onto the ball and playing the ball quickly, their big men strong, their small men creative, while their speed men punched into a South Sydney defence that wasn’t up and in their faces.
The Game Swung When … Down 12-4 at half-time, the Knights must have got an almighty rocket from Brian Smith because they came out in the second term a different side. They ran straight, were enthusiastic in support of the ball-carrier, and belted the Bunnies in defence. And the points flowed like the River Thames.
In the 53rd minute with the score 12-all, Colin Best was hammered in the tackle by Marvin Karawana and the ball spilled free. From the scrum the ball was shifted out to Adam MacDougall who ran hard and straight and just as he was about to plunge into the line slipped a pass to wing Keith Lulia who ran over.
Five minutes later some sensational rugby league by the Knights. On the fifth tackle, with Souths wingers back anticipating a kick, Jarrod Mullen threw a spiral pass that Joey Johns would have been justifiably proud of. It hit MacDougall on the chest and on the run, a perfect, pin-point pass from left to right. Ol’ Mad Dog then showed pace to stretch the Bunnies out wide before drawing the fullback and putting winger Keith Lulia away. Lulia drew the cover and found Steve Simpson – who had a huge 200th game – backing up inside. The impressive second-rower crashed over for the game-breaking try, doing his Origin hopes no harm.
Who Was Hot… Knights wing Akuila Uate ran hard, was strong through the tackle (he broke five of them) and scored a try. He’s got a powerful step that doesn’t so much try to trick defenders as power through them. It’s a step that straightens him up. And it’s a ripper.
Centre MacDougall was dangerous all game down the right and pulled off a fine strip on Ben Lowe. A dominant performance from a long-term performer.
And Simpson ran hard and played the ball quickly, laying a good foundation for his halves. Kurt Gidley was typically classy and Mullen did some things that won’t have offended Blues selectors.
For the Bunnies, Roy Asotasi was tough in defence, hard and fast in attack and set up his support players with judicious passing. He did drop the ball in the 27th second but from there it was all-out war. The Bunnies’ best.
Fullback Nathan Merritt ran with menace, was safe at the back and took a spectacular bomb which landed him right on his coccyx. Got up, though, and had a good game. On the wing, Jamie Simpson ran strongly and scored two tries.
Who Was Not… In the 13th minute with Souths 20 metres out and four tackles in hand, John Sutton sent through a grubber that no-one was ready to chase. The Rabbitohs got away with it to an extent when Mullen gave them the ball back a couple of tackles later. But then Sutton kicked it out on the full. And then he sent a pass behind David Fa’alogo which was grassed.
Ten minutes later, following a terrific burst down the middle by Issac Luke, Merritt and Chris Sandow, Sutton pushed through a grubber that ricocheted off a leg and went out. Then he threw a hail-Mary pass on tackle four 10 metres out. Then he gave away a penalty which gave the Knights field position. In the second half (yep – all that in one half of footy) Sutton was better, though he still sent a pass behind Fetuli Talanoa that went out. Very shoddy footy from a gifted player. He kept trying… but he was lucky he wasn’t dragged off the pitch.
Elsewhere Souths’ defence was flimsy on the fringes. McDougall was given far too much leeway, the old bald man streaming down the right side before dishing to his winger or taking them on himself. A case of thinking too much rather than getting up and just making the tackle.
Knights’ five-eighth Ben Rogers was penalised twice for continuing to tackle a player after the referee had indicated the player was tackled. Also dropped the pill on tackle one. Then he over-reacted to an innocuous Colin Best tackle that almost reversed a penalty. Not his best game and his coach will advise him of this.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Michael Crocker showed the footwork of Michael Jennings when he stepped through the Souths defence to post Souths’ first try. After taking a pass from Sandow, Crocker pulled off a huge step off his left foot to beat Junior Sau, followed by a huge step off his right foot to beat everyone else before he plunged over the line for a fine four-pointer.
Earlier there was a beautiful kick by Sandow for Jamie Simpson’s try; it was a small drop punt that bounced once and into Simpson’s arms, the pair running around and under the posts as happy as two Larry Emdurs.
To top off a dominant second half, Mullen popped over a field goal like Phil Mickelson chipping a lob wedge over a bunker.
Souths’ late consolation tries were beauties.
In the first, Sutton popped a lovely kick over the top for Sandow who got the ball, juggled it behind his back before riding a huge collision with Karawana. Sandow then found David Fa’alogo streaming down the left and the big second-rower ran over out wide.
For the second try, the ball went through a dozen sets of hands hot-potato style before Simpson crossed for his second. If they’d played this way from the first minute they’d have won 172-nil.
Bad Boys… Rogers and Best had a couple of feisty moments but it wasn’t exactly Kevin Tamati and Greg Dowling rumbling up the tunnel at Lang Park.
Refs Watch… Great game from the officials. Not a quibble.
NRL.com Best & Fairest…
Adam MacDougall (Knights): A constant danger down the right side, a huge game from the old Mad Dog; 2 points – Steve Simpson (Knights): A power of work in attack and defence, scored the game-breaking try just by being there; 1 point – Roy Asotasi (Rabbitohs) : Big, fast and damaging; the Bunnies’ best by a fair stretch.
Knights 25 (A Uate, R Fa’aoso, K Lulia, S Simpson tries; K Gidley 4 goals; J Mullen field-goal) def Rabbitohs 20 (J Simpson 2, M Crocker, D Fa’alogo tries; I Luke 2 goals) at Energy Australia Stadium. Crowd: 14,204.