The Newcastle Knights scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to continue Canberra’s form slump, beating the Raiders 24-16 at McDonalds Park in Wagga Wagga.
Looking dispirited and low on confidence in the first half, the Knights rallied from 16-0 down to continue the misery for the Raiders in second halves in 2021.
"It was a relief... to turn that around in the second half and come back I wouldn’t have asked for that earlier in the week, but it was what we needed, it was character building,” Knights coach Adam O’Brien said.
“I thought we were trying too hard to get the result, it’ been an anxious week and sometimes the players are a little tight and I felt we were doing that.
"Once we settled down and started to get a bit of rhythm and flow in the second half, we started to get joy through the middle."
Incredibly, Canberra has now been outscored 93-8 in second halves over the past five weeks coinciding with the side’s five-game losing streak.
It was the first time since the 2014 season that the Green Machine have lost five on the bounce.
For the Knights, the win is the shot in the arm needed after being outclassed the previous week, sealing the win in front of a sell-out crowd of 6642 in the Riverina.
Match: Raiders v Knights
Round 9 -
Venue: McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga
And Newcastle rallied with key personnel and experience heads missing.
“We’re young in some areas, Phoenix (Crossland) has played nine games and he’s never started as a half," O'Brien said.
"Kurt’s (Mann) greatest attribute is how competitive he is as a No.6, so it was never going to be clinical."
The Knights sprung a surprise to start the second half with a 10-metre Kalyn Ponga grubber catching the Raiders by surprise, with the sneak attack eventually earning the Knights a goal-line restart.
"The coaches had been looking at it (short restart) for a couple of weeks and we didn't show it to the team, we didn't think we could start tricky," O’Brien said.
"It was definitely important we started well in the second half, it was a nice play and we built our game off it but you’re not going to get them every week."
The Raiders opened the scoring after Emre Guler was upended in a tackle, gifting two points to George Williams after six minutes.
Canberra doubled its lead soon after from a rare scrum penalty, as the home side continued to assert its dominance early.
The Raiders lost Ryan Sutton midway through the first half with the lock in considerable pain on the bench before having ice placed on his left elbow.
The Knights looked to have scored the first try of the game when Enari Tuala crashed over, only to have the bunker overturn it due to obstruction from Tyson Frizell on Jack Wighton.
Ponga beats Starling close to the line
Rubbing salt into the Knights’ wounds, the Raiders went to the other end and scored after an excellent flat pass from Jordan Rapana found Joe Tapine on the charge to make it 10-0 after 31 minutes.
A knock-on from Ponga off a Raiders bomb gave the Raiders a perfect platform to attack and Williams did not need to be asked twice, with a well-weighted pass finding Bailey Simonsson who touched down in the corner.
Williams nailed the sideline conversion in what was a crucial blow against the Knights just before half-time.
Newcastle had plenty of work to do in the second half in both attack and defence, having missed 22 tackles in the first 40 minutes and making seven errors.
But momentum turned and with that renewed energy the Knights scored a vital try with Crossland touching down easily to cut the margin to 10.
Williams floats a pass over the defence to Simonsson
Canberra looked to have scored a vital hit-back try when Sebastian Kris crashed over but desperation defence from Starford To'a denied the centre.
Ponga scored his fifth try of the season as the Knights continued pressure saw the Raiders’ defensive line crack.
Another of the Knights' big guns stood tall in the 68th minute when Tyson Frizell powered over from close range and Ponga's conversion gave Adam O'Brien's men an unlikely lead.
Caleb Aekins was a fraction of a second from snatching back the lead only for the bunker to rule the Raiders fullback knocked-on attempting to ground a grubber.
Desperation plays from Jayden Brailey and Brayden Musgrove helped keep the Raiders at bay before Brailey latched onto an offload from Ponga to ice a superb Knights victory.
Watson and Crossland combine