Newcastle have staked their claim as a competition threat after downing Brisbane 32-14 at McDonald Jones Stadium to secure the club's first win in NRL Telstra Women's Premiership history.
Led by teenage half Jesse Southwell and a host of new recruits, the Knights led from start to finish to record a stunning 18-point upset over the Broncos, who had not lost an opening round fixture prior to Sunday night's contest.
The youngest ever player in the women's competition, it was Southwell who stole the headlines for the Knights with a starring performance throughout the match, while marquee signings Millie Boyle (18 runs for 159 metres) and Tamika Upton also performed admirably in their first outing against their former club.
In her NRLW debut, Southwell got the home crowd on their feet early with a piece of individual brilliance to nab the first points of the match, before opening up the Broncos' defence shortly after to set up Romy Teitzel.
With Autumn-Rain Stephens Daly crossing for her side's third try of the first half, Knights coach Ronnie Griffiths would have been delighted to enter half-time with an advantage that could have been more were it not for Brisbane's star halves.
Ali Brigginshaw's short side raid resulted in Julia Robinson spinning her way over for Brisbane's first try, before Tarryn Aitken returned the favour on Southwell right on the stroke of half-time to dart her way over and reduce the deficit to just six.
Aiken finds the gaps
With both Emily Bass and Shanae Ciesiolka taken off for head injury assessments in the first half, a reshuffled Broncos outfit were unable to start the second half as they had finished the first with some flimsy goal-line defence allowing Tayla Predebon to crash over next to the uprights to restore the Knights' 12-point advantage.
Brigginshaw's vision to find Robinson with a cross-field kick for her second try kept the Broncos in the contest with 15 minutes remaining, but the Knights were simply too strong through the middle as Caitlan Johnston scored her first NRLW try with a relatively simple barge over 10 minutes from full-time.
Bobbi Law put the icing on the cake with three minutes to go, collecting a lovely cut-out pass from Kirra Dibb before racing away to score her side's sixth try — handing the Knights their maiden victory in the history of the Telstra Women's Premiership.
Match: Knights v Broncos
Round 1 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
- An official crowd of 8,323 was recorded for the contest with the match following on from the NRL fixture between the Knights and Raiders.
- The Knights had 10 players making their club debuts while Jesse Southwell made her NRLW debut at 17 years of age.
- Brisbane had three players make their club debuts — Jaime Chapman, Nita Maynard and Crystal Tamarua — while two players made their NRLW debuts, Jasmine Fogavini and Sophie Holyman.
- Jesse Southwell became the youngest ever try-scorer in the NRLW with her individual run to score after six minutes.
- Newcastle's 16-point first half was the most points the team had scored in any game prior after finishing 2021 with just 48 points scored in total.
- The Broncos lost their left winger (Emily Bass) and left centre (Shenae Ciesiolka) in the space of five minutes to head injury assessments.
- Hannah Southwell picked up a knee injury and was eventually forced off two minutes before the half-time break with a suspected ACL tear.
- Newcastle completed at just 60 percent in the first half.
- Former Rooster Tayla Predebon scored her first NRLW try in her Knights debut.
- Julia Robinson's double took her to a career tally of eight tries.
- Tamika Upton was successful a captain's challenge attempt, taking over the duties with co-captains Hannah Southwell and Millie Boyle both off the field at the time. The decision proved critical in overturning an error to a penalty, which resulted in Caitlan Johnston's match-sealing try.
- Brisbane had not conceded 32 points in a game prior to tonight.
Play of the game
Having only gained an exemption to play in this year's competition a fortnight ago, Jesse Southwell showed fans what they can expect for many years to come — opening the scoring for the Knights with a sharp jinking run. Southwell stepped inside Tarryn Aitken with a lovely right foot step before showing superb pace to race through and score the first points of the match.
Debut delight for Jesse Southwell
What they said
"It was really special, [coach Ronnie Griffiths] had a lot of trust in us to deliver the performance and we've got a lot to work on but it's great to do that for Newcastle, our staff, our team and players as well to do everyone proud. It means everything to me to be involved in this playing group. I think everyone played really well tonight." - Knights prop Millie Boyle.
"I thought they started a bit faster than us. We were clunky and had some really good moments and good effort and good desperation but we gave them a lot of piggybacks out of our own end and gave up some soft tries close to our line as well. I don't think the scoreline reflects the battle but in the end, it's two points we didn't get. They were too good for us today." - Broncos coach Kelvin Wright.
NRLW Press Conference: Knights v Broncos - Round 1, 2022
Newcastle will travel north in Round 2 to face the Titans on the Gold Coast while Brisbane are at home for a mouth-watering clash against last year's defending premiers, hosting the Roosters on Saturday afternoon. Brisbane have never lost back-to-back matches in the Telstra Women's Premiership.