There are no doubts as to where Anthony Milford’s allegiances lie this season with the young dynamo inspiring the Raiders to their first victory of the 2014 season, overcoming the Knights 26-20 before a crowd of 14,674 at Hunter Stadium.
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The young star had a hand in two tries for the Green Machine and also defused several high-pressure bombs – the fullback seemingly proving the difference in a physical game that see-sawed right to the fulltime siren.
Locked at 10-all at halftime, the Raiders opened their second-half account when fullback Milford split through some brittle Knights defence before handing off the ball to centre Jarrod Croker for his second try of the night in the 52nd minute.
The Knights would return serve eight minutes later after some drastic miscommunication between Raiders duo Milford and Reece Robinson; James McManus pounced on the loose ball to lock it up for the home side.
The Knights hit the lead in the 65th minute after a superb late offload from centre Joey Leilua saw Tyrone Roberts sprint 30 metres on a diagonal run to score in the left corner.
A 60-metre passage of play saw the Raiders regain the lead again after some brilliant Milford lead-up work, the fullback assisting centre Jarrod Croker for an easy pass to Paul Vaughan for the four points. A late try to Edrick Lee sealed the win and consigned the home side to back-to-back defeats to start 2014.
The tone of the game was set in the opening two minutes with the sides coming to blows after Dane Gagai and Shaun Fensom engaging in some push and shove. A fiery first 40 minutes was capped off with another disagreement after the Raiders' Joel Edwards – who made no friends upon his return to Newcastle – made a heavy hit on Chris Houston late in the first half.
Raiders centre Croker opened the game’s scoring after six minutes, grounding after pouncing on halfback and captain Terry Campese's perfectly weighted grubber into the in-goal.
Both sides traded close try-scoring opportunities, before the Knights hit back in the 14th minute after some solid lead-up work by Michael Dobson and debutant Matt Minto – a brilliant cut-out ball by Minto sent winger Akuila Uate racing down the sideline for his first try of the year. The Knights went back-to-back in the 20th minute – second-rower Beau Scott barnstorming his way from 40 metres out to snatch back the lead for the home side.
In what was a back-and-forth first 40, Raiders utility Josh McCrone made an instant impact off the bench with try in the 24th minute. McCrone opened up the Knights' defence from dummy-half before running 20 metres to register the Raiders' second try of the evening.
However, the win came at a cost for the Raiders and possibly also Queensland, with Josh Papalii limping off early in the second half with a leg injury.
Raiders 26 (Croker 2, McCrone, Vaughan, Lee tries; Milford 2, Robinson goals) def. Knights 20 (Uate, Scott, McManus, Roberts tries; Gidley 2 goals). Crowd: 14,674.