They might have only won by 2 points, but the Knights had this game won by 12 with only 10 minutes remaining. They did clock off somewhat, but it seems Brian Smith has his side ticking along nicely so early in the season. Newcastle beating the fancied Warriors 24-22.
Once again from the kick-off, the Knights looked confident and certainly weren’t afraid to throw it around – nearly scoring a carbon copy try to what they did against Souths down the flank last week.
Starting with Jarrod Mullen from the bench once more, his injection just minutes before half-time was ideal for the side. It’s unclear whether he is still being nursed back from injury or if Brian Smith is using his impact value, but the instant results were there for Newcastle. Mullens first touch was a towering bomb that allowed his side to score minutes from the break and set the scene for a good win.
Combining well with Kurt Gidley, Mullen again showed why he is calculations for Origin – the half touching the ball on all occasions leading up to his sides tries.
It was a dry and humid atmosphere at EnergyAustralia stadium, the conditions taking their toll at times – but it seems nothing can take away from the ability of the key Knights men, Gidley and Mullen.
Hooker Isaac De Gois is starting to settle in to his new surroundings, the former Sharks rake getting his first try for the new club after having some nervous moments early on. De Gois positioned well by Gidley in the lead-up.
NZ were naturally struggling without Steve Price, however Russell Packer continues to do an admirable job in replacement – given the rawness of the rookie trying to fill big shoes. The big prop eventually rewarded with a late touchdown for his side.
The Warriors were leaning heavily on Stacey Jones and Joel Moon for the clutch attacking plays, Moon showing his ability early on, exposing some poor Newcastle defence.
While never totally on-top, the NZ side did take their few chances when offered. Jones sending up a huge bomb from nearly 40m out – allowing the talented Wade McKinnon to flt through and collect the pill, getting over to score.
But just prior to half time, the magic of Gidley and then Mullen ensured their side had the upper hand at the break.
First it was Gidley just 7 minutes from the break, this time flicking a a ball back – allowing James McManus to eventually get over for his first try.
Then when Brian Smith sent out Jarrod Mullen 5 miuntes from the break – he sent up that pinpoint bomb.
Gidley launching up for the ball and deliberately tapping it back for teammates, who spread it wide, with McManus crossing on the right wing again for a 14-6 halftime edge.
It seemed like Newcastle could run away with things after the half-time break, but with a fresh Nathan Fien coming off the bench – it adds some good spark around the rucks.
Fien scoring from dummy half after just 10 minutes of the second term. The NZ rep just getting enough of the chalk with his put down.
Another Knights player who was highly involved was Keith Lulia. The rangy outside back got points of his own after scoring from a deft Mullen stab kick into the in-goal. The video referee surprisingly taking an age to award this try – eventually giving ‘benefit of the doubt’. A decision which surprised many, as Lulia clearly grounded the ball without a problem – it should have been an immediate try.
When Knights forward Chris Houston scored minutes later – it looked all over. Houston getting the score, after his side went the length of the field in a fancy movement that involved some luck, but was highly entertaining.
But the Newcastle side were probably guilty of ‘clocking off’ at this point – ahead by 12 with not long to go.
As they so often do, New Zealand started throwing the ball around and refused to lay down despite the scoreline.
Rookie prop Russell Packer busting through a Cory Patterson attempted tackle from 10m out – scoring after penalties had given the Warriors field position and plenty of ball.
Denan Kemp’s missed conversion here, eventually cost his side the match. The relatively easy kick would have seen golden point in the minutes ahead.
NZ scored again through Patrick Ah Van getting the New Zealand team to 24-22 with 5 minutes left on the game clock.
But Newcastle were good enough to hang on, the win moving them to 6 competition points, a side that is flying along nicely under the radar with little or no headlines at the moment. If they can remain injury free, the sky is the limit. Their key men in Gidley and Mullen have good support this year, the likes of Houston and Patterson in the backrow are quality players going well, plus the rookies on the edges – Sou, Uate and the faultless McMannus could all give this side enough thrust to make a shake of the finals later in the year.
Afterwards, the NZ side was left frustrated at decisions by the officials. Outside back Kemp, believing Gidley should have been binned for holding him back late in the piece.
Behind by 24-16 with 8 minutes remaining, Denan Kemp chipped and chased, with Gidley in toe – it looked like Kemp would score.
As he went to get round Gidley and regather, Gidley grabbed Kemp’s jersey to slow down his progress and knock him down short.
It seemed certain Gidley was in trouble and would get 10 minutes, but referee Gavin Badger thought otherwise by only penalising him.
“To be honest I thought he was going to get binned or it was a penalty try,” Kemp lamented after the close finish.
“I believe that if he did not hold me back I probably would have scored but in saying that there is nothing you can do about it now.”
His coach too backing up comments, Cleary also feeling it was worth more from the referee.
“Fairly straightforward I would have thought … that might have helped,” he said.
“You can say there was a fair chance of scoring but you can’t really give a penalty try.
“But the next best thing … I thought it was fairly straightforward.
Even Gidley’s coach was worried about the outcome.
Knights boss Brian Smith was worried about 10 minutes for his star player.
“At the time it ran through my mind but I would like to see it again,” he said.
Smith was also frustrated with some referee elements, the officials pinging the Knights 5-0 in terms of penalties for the second 40 minutes.
The Warriors sink to 3 losses in a row now, they are at home to the Roosters and if Price can return, you’d think they can win that match. For the Knights, they have a tough away trip to face the in-form Dragons. Certainly a real test for where they are at.