Ladies who League: Knights show the way

Last Friday night the Newcastle Knights posted their third victory in a row, snapping the Parramatta Eels six game winning streak with a 29-10 victory at ANZ Stadium.

This win was special for a number of reasons. It meant that the Knights found themselves out of the wooden spoon position on the ladder briefly. It was the first time since the start of the 2015 season that the Knights have won three consecutive games.

It was the Knights biggest win since a 30-2 victory over the Gold Coast Titans in 2015. It was also the first time since 2015 that the Knights have won a game away from home. Contemplate that stat for a moment – for plenty of players in that Knights team this was the first time they have experienced a win away from McDonald Jones Stadium while wearing the red and blue jersey.

Incredible.

Plenty of people asked me how I felt after the Knights win. I expect many people thought I would be embarrassed and disappointed that the team on the bottom of the ladder beat my team – a team that is pushing for a top four position.

Quite the opposite in fact. I was delighted (well, as delighted as you can be when your team doesn’t get the two points). I was also unsurprised by the result. 

Heading into this game I was mildly nervous.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been plenty of talk about the Parramatta Eels and how they had suddenly become ‘contenders’ for the Premiership this year. How quickly the goalposts changed from the start of the year when I know that for the club, playing finals football was the goal.

After winning six in a row, I thought a loss was coming (this could of course be the pessimistic fan in me). This, coupled with a Knights team brimming with confidence was a recipe for disaster.

And for the Eels, a disaster it was. 

But less about the Eels and more about the Knights and their dominant performance on Friday night.

There are several players in the team that I wanted to mention after what I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, the Saifiti twins. I think plenty of people forget that these two men are only 21 years old and are still potentially a couple of years away from being in the prime of their careers. In this game Daniel Saifiti had 16 runs and made 135 metres while Jacob Saifiti had 12 runs for 115 metres off the bench. To think that Jacob might be a player that consistently makes 100 metres off the bench is a frightening prospect for opposition teams.

The Knights also seemed to have benefited from having Trent Hodkinson, Jamie Buhrer and Shaun Kenny-Dowell all completely fit and playing together. Between them, these three men add plenty of experience to a very young squad which at times needs some additional guidance on the football field. This experience will also be bolstered with some new additions to the team next year.

Mitch Barnett continues to lead from the front and Josh King and Lachlan Fitzgibbon have steadily improved as the season has gone on.  

But the player that shone most brightly on Friday night was Brock Lamb.

This is a player who has bounced back remarkably, despite a very difficult night at the office a couple of weeks ago against the Canterbury Bulldogs.

His last three weeks have been outstanding – he has scored three tries, made two line breaks, has five try assists and has also kicked a field goal.

The future looks bright for the young five-eighth who has had to learn how to lead and guide what is a very young and inexperienced team. Unlike other young halves, he has not had the benefit of experience around him, which makes how he has been playing over the last couple of weeks even more impressive. 

I hope Knights fans have been enjoying every single moment of the last season surge by their team.

It has been slim pickings as a Knights fan for the last couple of seasons, so every single win is one that should be celebrated.

There are very few places in Australia that embrace their rugby league team quite like the people in Newcastle do and it shows, with the Knights consistently having amongst the highest home crowd numbers in the competition. 

I expect those crowds to continue to increase with the Knights still having two more home games this year including round 26 against the Cronulla Sharks. This game will be when the Knights celebrate Old Boys Day and is traditionally their biggest and most significant home game of the season. 

When we get to this point of the season, for many teams matches become meaningless. Once they have been ruled out of the race for the top eight, there’s very little to play for and you can see some players beginning to clock off and think about the off-season. But not for this Knights team. Every single win means something and it’s why, despite their position on the ladder, so many rugby league fans continue to enjoy watching them play football and hold onto a small glimmer of hope that they won’t get the wooden spoon this year. 

Other teams could learn a thing or two from the current Knights squad. Lessons about courage, determination, resilience and simply getting out there and playing for your mates.

The best part is, is that the good times are only just starting for the Newcastle Knights. They have another three games this season against some formidable opposition including the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks, but I’m predicting that they jag at least one more win before the season is over.

Then we look to next year. With the addition of players like Aidan Guerra, Connor Watson and Kayln Ponga, there is plenty to be excited about a Newcastle Knights team that looks like it has finally learnt to play first grade football – and how good is that for rugby league.