Knights v Raiders: Five key points
The Newcastle Knights earned their first competition point of the season while the Raiders kept their undefeated streak intact as the two clubs played out a thrilling 24-all draw in front of a proud Hunter Stadium crowd.
Mullen's 200th one to remember
Whether he likes it or not Jarrod Mullen's 200th NRL game will be one he'll never forget.
The impetus behind three of Newcastle's four tries, without Mullen Newcastle wouldn't have been a chance.
Following a forgettable past 12 months – a toe injury preventing him from truly contributing to the Knights' poor 2015 campaign – Mullen showed glimpses of amazing skill alongside Trent Hodkinson.
Down 16-0, a 40-metre break minutes out from half-time allowed him to set up Newcastle's first try of the game, which eventually proved the catalyst behind their eventual comeback and draw.
"That [try] probably hurt us I think more than people recognised at that stage," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said of Cory Denniss's 39th minute try.
"We knew they were going to come back out with a barrage and they did it well."
Unknown stands up on debut
On Denniss, Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown couldn't have been prouder of the 18-year-old debutant after his two-try effort.
Knights co-captain Jeremy Smith admitted he'd never heard of the recent SG Ball graduate before Monday, as Brown revealed the winger had to take time off work to train with the first grade squad during the week.
"He did really well, didn't he, the young fella? He just needed to back his instincts. He's a good young player. He has a lot of talent, obviously everyone is quite aware that in 12 months time he'll be a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot better," Brown said.
"He handled himself very well. He scored two. He saved one which from a winger's point of view is important. Everyone was very proud of him."
Raiders penalty goal proves turning point
Up 16-6 with just 23 minutes left on the clock the Raiders received a penalty in undeniably good territory. Holding the momentum in the few minutes prior the Raiders denied themselves the chance to extend their lead by another try, skipper Jarrod Croker stepping up to kick a penalty goal instead.
It meant the Knights were just two converted tries off the lead at that stage, though it also allowed them good field position soon after – as Sam Mataora, Pat Mata'utia and Denniss piled on the points for the home team in the final 20 minutes.
Of course without Croker's penalty goal Brenko Lee's 78th minute try would have all been in vain, but you can't help but wonder what might have been if not for the decision to take the two points on offer.
Brown calls out 'keyboard warriors'
Nathan Brown called out Newcastle's so-called supporters following the draw, using the youth of his right edge as an example to why fans should be at Hunter Stadium for their next home clash in three weeks' time.
"Our right edge was Jake Saifiti, Sione Mata'utia – who both are 19 – and young Cory is 18. And they're all from Newcastle. The local people have been complaining for a lot of years about having a team which gives local kids an opportunity," Brown said.
"Now they have the opportunity, I'd like to think a lot of the keyboard warriors could actually turn up and cheer for them. We can't guarantee them anything but they're getting what they wanted.
"They should turn up and support the boys. If we keep giving efforts like that, I'd think they would turn up."
Raiders unearth another playmaking option
If you had to give the Raiders team list another look prior to this fixture, we don't blame you – namely because the big English bopper Elliott Whitehead was named at five-eighth.
Proving many doubters wrong, Whitehead thrived.
"Elliott's a class player. I had no worries about playing Elliott there at six. He has wonderful ball skills," Stuart said.
Those exact ball skills were exactly why the Raiders shot out to a 16-0 lead, with the usual back-rower coming up with two try assists for Sia Soliola and Jordan Rapana.
While it meant last-start debutant Lachlan Croker returned to the Intrust Super Premiership, it showed just another trick Stuart has up his sleeve in 2016.