Dragons v Knights: Five key points
A wildly-swinging and high-scoring contest was eventually won 32-28 by the Dragons at UOW Jubilee Oval on Sunday afternoon after the Dragons answered Newcastle's five unanswered tries with four consecutive second-half tries of their own.
A tale of two centurions
They both finished on the winning team but Dragons winger Jason Nightingale's 100th NRL try was more cause for celebration than in-form prop Paul Vaughan's 100th NRL game, which ended after just three minutes due to a calf injury.
Nightingale had two tries inside 10 minutes of the contest – the 99th and 100th of his NRL career – as the Dragons looked like they were up for an easy win. But it was his 101st try and third of the day midway through the second half that was the most important as it was the one that brought his team back level after somehow falling 28-10 behind by half-time.
The polished display from the off-contract 30-year-old prompted his coach Paul McGregor to describe him as "a fine wine" that continues to improve with age.
Things were not as happy for Vaughan; the former Raider has been one of the buys of the season right across the NRL and put in another storming performance last week despite his team's loss to the Eels.
Game 100 though ended early when he limped off with a calf strain and the devastated prop was nowhere to be seen in the Dragons sheds after the game with even McGregor unable to find him to check in on him immediately after the win. The club remains hopeful a low-grade strain will have him available after the Round 18 bye.
Ross's fullback switch could be long-term
Popular Knights winger Nathan Ross was switched to fullback by coach Nathan Brown for the Round 16 clash – with regular No.1 Dane Gagai backing up from Wednesday night's Origin Two game – and made an immediate impression.
Ross told NRL.com at the start of the year it remained a key goal of his to challenge himself at fullback and centre rather than just being a winger who can finish a try, and has spent most of the year training across all three backline positions.
Following his 10-minute first half hat-trick and impressive haul of 220 meters, his coach Nathan Brown indicated the switch would likely be a permanent one for the 28-year-old.
Knights find attacking mojo but second half woes remain
The 28 first-half points scored by the Knights was their most in the opening 40 of a game since Round 16, 2013. However the loss on Sunday was also the seventh time this year the Knights have led at half time and gone on to lose.
There are positives to come from what is arguably the toughest loss of the season for the men from the Hunter. The quality of football they played in that half hour of dominance was described by Brown as the best 30 minutes of football of his 18-month tenure.
During that time, their forwards got a roll on, their inexperienced halves ran the ball well and challenged the line and took good options and the backs capitalised on their chances.
But yet another second-half fadeout drove home the point that a youthful squad with few rep players and scant experience will continue to struggle to stay in games for 80 minutes and will remain a work in progress for a while to come yet.
An expensive two points?
Part of that lack of battle-hardened experience may have reared its head two minutes out from half-time for the Knights as they took a surprisingly conservative option to take a free two points when six would have been better.
Following a wonderful half-hour in which the Knights dominated their opponents in every facet of the game to score five straight tries, a knock-on from Dragons winger Nene Macdonald followed by a ruck penalty on the Dragons line handed Newcastle a choice.
Take a penalty kick to make it an 18-point lead rather than 16, or try their hand to take it past a three-converted-try lead.
With two minutes until the break and their opponents looking shot to bits, a full set on the Dragons line must have been tempting. Newcastle opted for the conservative play and after the Dragons' four unanswered second half tries reclaimed the lead, hindsight would suggest it was a little too conservative.
Origin stars stamp their class
Less than four days on from one of the toughest games of their respective careers, St George Illawarra's NSW reps Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell stood up to be counted.
In almost the perfect example of what Newcastle is currently lacking, the Blues pair put in monumental stints and – along with skipper and England Test star Gareth Widdop – proved the difference in a tight win.
Dugan was relentless right across the 80 minutes, charging the ball back repeatedly and seemingly bumping out of tackles at will on his way to 256 metres and 11 tackle busts. Frizell – still troubled by a ribs injury – may not even have played had lock Jack de Belin not been rubbed out through suspension but played 52 minutes and provided a ton of sting with his carries, finishing up with 124 metres, four tackle busts and a line break.