The Newcastle Knights have won their first game of the season, overcoming a fast start from the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to win 32-16 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Fans from both sides were provided with their first look at several new recruits, including Corey Allan, Tyson Frizell, Nick Cotric and Kyle Flanagan.
Flanagan’s Bulldogs career began in style as he sent Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over to score the first try of the match with a scintillating left-to-right cut-out pass.
— NRL (@NRL) March 12, 2021
Not to be outdone by his opposite number, Mitchell Pearce returned serve just four minutes later by sending Daniel Saifiti away to score in his 100th NRL game.
Mitchell Barnett converted the try and then slotted a penalty goal to give the Knights a 8-4 lead.
After a tumultuous off-season, Adam Elliot managed to put the negative press behind him and carried several defenders with him to the try-line in a barnstorming run.
However, just as the Bulldogs looked to be gaining the ascendency in the game, Newcastle kicked away and never looked back.
Starford To’a crossed in the right corner in the 33rd minute before a deft short ball from Connor Watson sent Mitchell Barnett over to score untouched with one minute to go until the break.
The Knights led 18-10 at the break.
Jayden Brailey was strong in his return from the ACL injury that ended his 2020 campaign. He threw the final pass to Daniel Saifiti, who crossed for his second try to restart the scoring after half-time.
— NRL (@NRL) March 12, 2021
Bradman Best scored his first try of the season eight minutes later to seal the result for Newcastle.
Despite some early errors, Nick Cotric had a solid first game in the blue-and-white with several strong runs and a line-break in the second half.
The Bulldogs struggled to convert their chances though, and could only muster one consolation try to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
The only negative for Newcastle came in the casualty ward, with five-eighth Kurt Mann suffering a suspected MCL-sprain and Bradman Best leaving the match in the second half with a lower leg injury.
Post-game, Knights coach Adam O’Brien praised the efforts of his troops, showing particular support for the performance of Daniel Saifiti alongside club debutants Tyson Frizell and Sauaso Sue.
“I’m really proud of the group. It was a tough performance just like we knew that it was going to have to be… we showed plenty of grit,” O’Brien stated.
On the other side, Trent Barrett expressed his side’s disappointment at the result but conceded there were plenty of lessons learned, particularly surrounding discipline, that will assist in the ongoing development of his young side.
“We didn’t help ourselves at all. I thought we started okay and we looked okay with the ball, but we made too many yardage errors,” Barrett said.
The Knights will be looking to continue the momentum they built this evening when they face the Warriors next Friday, while the task only gets tougher for Barrett’s Bulldogs as they play the Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
NRL News Player of the Game:
3 Points – Daniel Saifiti – Two tries, two linebreaks, and 174 metres. It was his 100th NRL game, and arguably his finest yet.
2 Points – Mitchell Pearce – Two try assists and 77 touches of the ball. After a controversial offseason, Pearce put the headlines aside, focused on playing his best football, and directed his side to a comprehensive win despite losing his halves partner.
1 Point – Jayden Brailey – Game high 50 tackles and one try assist. Was forced to play 80 minutes in his return from injury and looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat.