Newcastle produced a Herculean defensive effort on Saturday evening, overcoming the loss of Jarrod Mullen in the first four minutes to beat a Canberra side that played well and didn’t give up but which just could not break through.
The Raiders were a long way from disgraced. Perhaps their kicking was a little off, but that would be a quibble. They threw everything at the Knights’ line, ran fine angles and held onto the ball. Against a less committed side they’d have scored 20 points.
But Newcastle stood up time and again to repel them. It was a classic siege mentality from the locals and Brian Smith will be hugely chuffed with his charges.
The Game Swung When… Five minutes into the game star Knights halfback Mullen went down with an ankle injury and the Knights lost their rudder. But five-eighth Ben Rogers filled the breach superbly, kicking with great distance and penetration and taking a lot of pressure off his big men. Forwards prefer running forward, and they repaid their new playmaker with big hits and lung-busting effort.
Minutes later Newcastle lost prop Mark Taufua for most of the first half and could have been forgiven for packing up.
Instead they constantly repelled the Raiders’ charges, while going on to make the most of their own chances up the other end. A huge effort from the home side against a pretty handy Raiders team that had beaten Melbourne and Gold Coast in recent weeks.
On the few times Newcastle had the ball in Raiders territory they came up with tries – three of them in the first half. When Wes Naiqama nailed a sideline conversion on the stroke of half-time, the Knights were 16-0 up and pumped.
In the second half Newcastle continued their defensive heroics. The Raiders had even more possession and threw more at them, but only crossed the line once via a kick taken by Joel Monaghan in the 55th minute.
Five minutes later impressive Raiders fullback Josh Dugan made a bust and had the fullback to draw, but the movement broke down, and the Knights held on. Again.
Rogers’ smart 66th-minute field-goal gave his side a 13-point buffer that they never surrendered.
Who Was Hot… Against an in-form outfit like the Raiders, after losing their playmaker and prop in the first 10 minutes, Newcastle will count this win as one of their best of the season. Their forwards and outside backs and centres tackled brilliantly, time and again shutting down promising Raiders raids.
Rogers’ kicking was superb and he set his men free out wide with pinpoint, judicious passing. Great game.
Nuggety Knights centre Junior Sau was a handful down the left, winger Akuila Uate ran strongly while Adam MacDougall continued his strong form of late. In fact the Knights’ backs played more like second-rowers: lots of tackles, lots of runs.
The Knights’ forwards also stood up, particularly with a depleted bench. Richard Fa’aoso ran hard and scored a try, Zeb Taia did plenty of work (18 runs, 152 metres, 26 tackles) and Isaac De Gois made a game-high 45 tackles. They completed 36 of 41 sets and defended their line like Davey Crockett at the Alamo.
Who Was Not… The kicking game of Raiders’ half Marc Herbert was just off. And his halves partner Terry Campese can perhaps put his hand up also. The pair didn’t play badly, indeed far from it. But their kicking didn’t give their team enough repeat sets.
Joe Picker dropped the ball twice in the first half.
But it seems churlish to criticise players in this game. The Raiders played well but just came up against a team that wouldn’t let them through. And that was it.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Dugan pulled off a couple of lovely pieces of fullback play. The first time he caught a kick-through showing the reflexes of Ricky Ponting in the slips, before haring off upfield in his distinctive long-legged lope. The second time he took a bouncing ball and flicked it back infield just as he was about to run into touch with it. Got some game, J. Dugan. A shame he injured his knee and will be out for some time.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… Bernard Sutton tried to dodge a kick that hit him on the ankle. He called play-on, perhaps having forgotten that he should have called a scrum.
Otherwise, Sutton and Jarrod Maxwell had excellent (read: largely anonymous) games. The penalty count was a Harrigan-esque 3-2 to the Raiders.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Ben Rogers (Knights): Long-kicking game gave his team breathing space, passing game created tries; 2 points – Junior Sau (Knights): Defended like a Trojan, ran with power and pace; 1 point – Josh Dugan (Raiders): Ran with menace from the back and handled kicks with skill.
Knights 23 (R Fa’aoso, K Lulia, A Uate, W Naiqama tries; W Naiqama 3 goals; B Rogers field-goal) def Raiders 4 (J Monaghan try) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Crowd: 15,355.