Billed as wooden spoon contenders that might be unable to perform competitively, the Newcastle Knights gave the New Zealand Warriors an almighty fright, as the side across the Tasman needed a last-minute try to seal a win.
In what was a see-sawing affair, the Warriors prevailed in the end with a 26-22 victory at Mt Smart Stadium.
On the surface, the primary talking point was set to be a well-earned hat-trick by David Fusitu’a but instead, the Knights dug deep and found their resolve to come back and lead 22-20 at one point.
The Knights actually opened the scoring through Peter Mata’utia but it was one-way traffic in the opposite direction following that, as a litany of mistakes allowed the Warriors to score four quick tries.
Fusitu’a scored is hat-trick over this period and a further try to centre Solomone Kata gave the Warriors an impressive lead heading into the break.
The Knights clawed their way back into the contest with some quick tries of their own but just when it looked like they were on the attack to take it one step further, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck struck.
The Warriors custodian produced a magical kick return that led to a repeat set and then to a Warriors try. So, despite their valiant effort, the Knights were denied victory.
There were some injury concerns, though, with both Issac Luke (ribs) & Simon Mannering (neck) leaving the field, as well as the Knights Dylan Phythian who suffered a suspected ACL injury.
The praise aimed towards Tuivasa-Sheck had team-mates glowing about him for the play that ended up winning them the game.
“He works on that every single day at training, just stepping through holes, he does it all the time,” team-mate and prop Sam Lisone said.
“It was no coincidence, he does it all the time and I think he has just got a lot of desire in those situations.
“He has a crack, he’s not afraid to do that, he is full of energy and gets in the right place at the right time.”
In his first outing as captain, Tuivasa-Sheck admits that it was frustrating at times but a role he looks forward to learning more about.
“There were times there where it was pretty frustrating,” Tuivasa-Sheck said,
“[But] I am just taking each game as it comes, I didn’t feel the pressure today, I am just confident in what we have to do.
“I had the boys backing me, so I believed in them.”
Player of the Game:
3. Shaun Johnson
2. David Fusitu’a
- Jack Stockwell
New Zealand Warriors 26 (David Fusitu’a 3, Solomone Kata, Ryan Hoffman tries; Shaun Johnson 2, Issac Luke 1 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 22 (Peter Mata’utia, Jack Stockwell, Nathan Ross x2 tries; Trent Hodkinson 3 goals) at Mount Smart Stadium. Half-time: 20-8. Crowd: 13,712.