Knights rookies star against Goannas
Wayne Bennett told us all week his Newcastle Knights would entertain against the First Nations Goannas, and that's exactly what the Knights did at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, putting on a show in the inaugural trial match.
Most pleasing for coach Bennett was the fact the comprehensive 52-12 victory was set-up by the club's rookies and recruits.
Winger Jake Mamo starred with a hat-trick in his maiden top grade appearance, while fellow rookie second-rower Joe Tapine snared a double. Fullback Sione Mata'utia was also impressive.
In many ways though, the big win was orchestrated by halves Tyrone Roberts and new recruit Michael Dobson. Dobson was particularly strong, with the former Raider setting up a host of tries in his first match in the NRL for five years.
Matt Minto, who joins the club on a one-year deal from the Mackay Cutters, was also outstanding. Minto put on one try and scored another in the second half with a brilliant individual effort from 40 metres out.
The Knights' engine room also deserves praise, with props Korbin Sims and Zane Tetevano performing well.
While the final score blew out in the end, you certainly couldn't knock the Goannas effort. They tried hard for the entire night and should be commended for the pride and passion they displayed.
The First Nations side performed their traditional war dance before the match, an intimidating display with plenty of energy.
That passion overflowed into the opening exchanges, with the Goannas not afraid to hit hard in defence and spread the ball wide in attack.
This full-on attack was halted in the third minute when Knights' captain Tyrone Roberts delivered a perfectly timed face ball for back-rower Alex McKinnon to score.
Winger Josh Mantellato converted to give Newcastle an early 6-0 lead.
The Knights continued to apply the pressure in attack via new recruit Michael Dobson, but the Goannas held strong with half and skipper Adrian Davis coming up with the big plays in defence.
Dobson may have failed on his first attempt, but he remained persistent and was rewarded in the 15th minute by going to the line and putting up a well-timed pass for youngster Joe Tapine to score.
Mantellato again slotted the extras to give the Knights a 12-0 lead.
At this point, Newcastle were gaining control up front lead by starting props Korbin Sims and Zane Tetevano.
Sims was particularly damaging and added to the Knights' tally in the 19th minute with a barge over try from close range.
Mantellato converted the try and the home side were cruising leading 18-0 at the first quarter break.
The Goannas may have been behind, but they remained calm and came out in the second quarter focused and ready to play.
This positive attitude resulted in more possession for the First Nations side, who crossed for their first try in the 31st minute via second-rower Davin Crampton.
Davis converted and the Goannas reduced the deficit to 18-6.
On the back of the change of momentum, the First Nations lads crossed again in the 35th minute.
Veteran back Rod Jensen scored under the posts with a determined run.
Davis converted to make the score 18-12.
Just as the Goannas were starting to look dangerous, the Knights rediscovered their composure and hit back on the stroke of halftime with Minto passing for rookie fullback Sione Mata'utia to cross out wide.
Mantellato missed the kick and the Knights led 22-12 at the break.
The home side returned for the third quarter full of running and crossed after just four minutes with Dobson putting Tapine over for his second try.
Mantellato converted for a 28-12 lead.
Newcastle then went on a try scoring spree, scoring two tries in the space of just four minutes.
Mantellato crossed in the 49th minute, while prop Sims put on a great pass for rookie winger Mamo to run 80 minutes and score giving the Knights a commanding 38-12 lead.
The home side finished off an impressive third quarter with Mamo grabbing his second try on the back of some quality lead-up play by Roberts.
Newcastle headed into the final quarter with a 42-12 lead, but the Goannas refused to give in.
Despite the good intentions by the First Nations outfit, it was the Knights who finished the match with another two tries to round out a comprehensive victory.