Knights steal win over the Roosters
The Newcastle Knights have recorded a 16-12 win over the Sydney Roosters thanks to a 78th-minute match-winning try from Joey Leilua at Hunter Stadium.
After the disappointing and disheartening loss to the Titans last week in the RiseForAlex Round, a Tyrone Roberts-inspired effort allowed the Knights to record only their sixth win of the season.
With halves lynchpin Jarrod Mullen failing to make it out for the second half and Newcastle's young back three having only five games of NRL appearances between them, the Knights recorded what was undoubtedly their most memorable win of the year.
Cuthbertson: We were hurting for Alex
Robinson: Refs were looking out for us
Proud Bennett lauds Knights' tenacity
WATCH: Knights v Roosters match highlights
WATCH: Roberts lays on the match-winner
WATCH: Wayne Bennett's post-match press conference
As it happened: Relive our match blog
Match stats, scores and video
The Roosters were disallowed three tries in the first half, with a stirring defensive from the Knights allowing them to stick out the game in a tit-for-tat battle against the reigning premiers.
With the visitors holding a 6-0 halftime lead and the Roosters' Mitchell Aubusson (ankle) and Newcastle's Mullen (abdominal) failing to come out of the sheds for the second stanza, a spirited Knights outfit bounced back in the best possible way after an hour of play. A Beau Scott line break helped Roberts score his seventh try of the season. At the same time, the referees lost patience with a backchatting Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and sent him to the sin-bin.
With 16 minutes remaining in the game, Roberts was at it again when he crossed for his second of the evening. An unlikely line break and offload from Willie Mason allowed hooker Adam Clydsdale to send it out to Roberts who ran 20 metres and shrugged off two defenders to give his side a 10-6 lead – though a crucial missed at conversion by Dane Gagai hurt the hosts.
An intercept from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck sent Newcastle into panic mode but a last-ditch effort from debutant Chanel Mata'utia saved the Knights' skin with 10 minutes remaining. The same man would make an outstanding tackle on his opposite winger Nene Macdonald but it wouldn't be enough to stop the Roosters with Frank-Paul Nuuausala scoring in the 71st minute.
The try came from a Sonny Bill Williams run but with the ball knocked out his grasp, Nuuausala was able to slide through and pick up the scraps. A calm and collected Maloney kicked ahead with the conversion to make the score 12-10.
A running battle between Scott and Waerea-Hargreaves escalated into an all-in push and shove and with the Knights rewarded a penalty they had one last shot at victory with three minutes remaining. Roberts continued his outstanding effort without halves partner Mullen to force a repeat set, and then another Roberts grubber paid off brilliantly for Leilua to score in the 78th minute. A desperate Knights outfit held the Roosters out in a frantic final minute to record the two-point win.
It wasn't all positive for the Knights though in the early stages, punctuated by a very unhappy start to the NRL career of Knights fullback Sione Mata'utia. Darius Boyd's replacement misread the bounce of a Jake Friend grubber down the blindside, with Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello managing to grasp the ball over the 18-year-old's head to post a 6-0 lead for the Tricolours after only two minutes.
The Roosters appeared to go back-to-back in the 14th minute when a Dane Gagai kick was deflected and chased down by James Maloney. With the Roosters five-eighth slowing down to a jog, Mata'utia was able to redeem himself and force the error through sheer pressure thus preventing the Roosters a two-try advantage.
Roosters centre Aidan Guerra was denied 10 minutes later when a scrappy contest for a bomb was ruled to have been knocked on by the Roosters, and they were a denied a third potential try in a row, again through Maloney, with seven minutes remaining in the half when it was ruled the five-eighth was held up over the line.
That gritty defensive effort – and Roberts' star turn in the second half – was enough to guide Newcastle to a rare victory.
Knights 16 (Roberts 2, Leilua Tries; Gagai, Roberts Goals) defeat Roosters 12 (Minichiello, Nuuausala Tries; Maloney 2 Goals) at Hunter Stadium. Crowd: 15,468.