Cowboys v Knights: Five key points
Following the Knights' thrilling comeback win in North Queensland on Saturday night, here are our five key takeaways.
The Knights are headstrong
'More will than skill' is the catch-cry of Newcastle head coach Rick Stone after the Knights backed up their inspired victory against the Warriors last week with a 14-point comeback win in Townsville. The visitors came out firing to win the field position game before Dane Gagai conceded a penalty 10 minutes in to give the Cowboys their first shot at the Newcastle's line. They made the most of it with an Ethan Lowe try which quickly had the home side's tails up, and after half an hour were up 14-0. To Newcastle's credit, they wrestled back momentum and dominated the bulk of the contest from that point.
"It's a massive win tonight for us. It was a good win last week, we've still got plenty to work on but I think our character is the best thing over the past couple of weeks," Knights captin Kurt Gidley said after the game.
"You can't work on character and desire and that sort of thing at training, it comes from within and I think that's the most pleasing part from our past two wins."
The Cowboys attack needs work
North Queensland has managed just three tries from 85 sets of six in their first two games of the Telstra Premiership season. For the Cowboys to not put points on the board at home is a rarity, and comes down to poor fifth-tackle options and a lack of organisation attacking the try line. With the Knights rushing Johnathan Thurston out of the game, Robert Lui's kicking game deteriorated as the match unfolded. Pressure is built with repeat sets, and the five-eighth failed to apply any of it on the Knights' back five and on the goal line when in attacking 20m. Not one dropout was forced all game.
Akuila Uate is finding old form
It was not hard to gauge the level of confidence felt by Akuila Uate on Saturday night. As he ran onto the pastures of 1300SMILES Stadium, it stood out like a sore thumb – a thick black strip of hair; the kind resembling Mr. T in the 1980s TV series The A-Team. Once regarded as the world's top winger, Uate battled through 2014 with injury and the weight of teammate Alex McKinnon's career-ending injury. But he has come out the other side rejuvenated, as noted by coach Rick Stone after the game.
"He's come back great, Aku. He's worked really hard to get his fitness up, his weight down, and his confidence is rising every game," Stone said.
"Every touch you can see he's gaining more confidence. The back end of last year the bone-bruising he had really troubled him... but he's got a smile back on his face. He's enjoying training, he's enjoying his footy and he played really tough today."
Justin O'Neill is having a horror homecoming
The former Townsville junior cannot catch a break after two rounds of the Telstra Premiership. Following an error-filled night to forget in Round 1, O'Neill was driven into the turf by Kade Snowden and taken off on a medicab, causing a lengthy delay early in the first half. After the game, Paul Green reported O'Neill seemed fine in the dressing sheds, but had not yet consulted medical staff.
Jarrod Mullen's boot opens doors to the highlight factory
Staying with The A-Team theme: "I love it when a plan comes together" - John 'Hannibal' Smith.
The Knights came into town with a plan; a "trick shot" that they had practiced at training during the week. From a scrum within their own 30-metre line, Newcastle five-eighth Jarrod Mullen went to first receiver on the short side looking to isolate the match-up of Johnathan Thurston and Uate. As the only players on the right side of the field, it became a 50-metre foot race after Mullen booted it as far as he could downfield. Uate was first to the punch, and on the next play the Knights shifted left for Joey Leilua to expose a recovering Cowboys defence in the corner. These kinds of plays make for attractive rugby league and with the combination of Mullen's kicking prowess and the expansive philosophy in attack, Newcastle may well be one of the more entertaining teams to watch this season.