In a fiery encounter at ANZ Stadium, the Newcastle Knights have defeated the South Sydney Rabbitohs 20-12, in the opening game of Round 13.
Late changes to both sides made it difficult to get any sort of read on the potential winner, with the wet weather throwing a further spanner in the works.
It can’t be good to see matches robbed of its stars thanks to injury and fatigue off the back of representative fixtures, yet that is the reality of June in the NRL and the Bunnies took to the field without Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds.
Mercifully for fans of the cardinal and myrtle, Maroons hero Dane Gagai and Blues hooker Damien Cook did back up. The Knights copped a fair whack as well, with Kalyn Ponga rested and their forward power looking a little light on after David Klemmer’s late withdrawal with a wrist injury that will keep him sidelined for some time.
On a wet and slippery night after lingering showers had hosed Sydney throughout much of the day, the smart money was on a low scoring and dour affair between two sides desperate to maintain the momentum they had built early in the season.
However, it took just four minutes for the opening Knights try to Hymel Hunt. The Rabbitohs responded when new recruit James Roberts scored a lovely try from an Adam Doueihi kick just five minutes later.
Mason Lino then extended Newcastle’s lead with a penalty goal, before Mitchell Pearce laid on a deft pass for Mitchell Barnett to score after 26 minutes. As the arm wrestle began to develop late in the half and both sides looked to eliminate errors from their game, tensions grew.
On the stroke of half time, the match exploded. Tom Burgess blatantly head butted Daniel Saifiti in back play before the troops came from all quarters. Brother Sam wasn’t backward in coming forward and appeared to deliver his own Liverpool kiss on Lachlan Fitzgibbon, as the two became locked in a grapple among the throng.
Referee Grant Atkins dealt with the melee by sending both Burgess boys, as well as Fitzgibbon and Saifiti to the sin bin.
Frankly, Tom Burgess should have been marched for the remainder of the match and will undoubtedly serve weeks for the way in which he led with his head. Captain Pearce was infuriated, demanding Atkins award a penalty to the Knights, based on the fact that Burgess had indeed instigated the violence.
Atkins appeared to be in a world of his own and gave the Rabbitohs the penalty. Dane Gagai’s conversion saw the Knights take a slim 12-6 lead into the sheds at the break.
With just 11 on 11 to start the second half, there were paddocks of space available. It looked a little like a drop-off game of touch football as Connor Watson made life a misery for the Bunnies defenders.
He crossed in the 46th minute and the conversion sent the Knights well clear by 18-6. When the sin binned players returned, everyone held their breath. Round 2 looked likely.
It didn’t take long. When Tom Burgess erred in the play the ball after 53 minutes, he stood toe to toe with Saifiti once again; this time managing to resist the urge to snot the big man with a cheap head butt.
Despite Sam Burgess’ rather bizarre complaints of inequality in decision making to Atkins soon after, another penalty conversion to Lino and Sam’s arguably late hit on Mitchell Pearce, the Englishman kept trying until the end.
He even managed a late try that was converted by Gagai in the 75th minute.
However, the contest was well and truly won. The Knights were better, faster and more intense than South Sydney and could potentially have won by a greater margin had the Bunnies been rightfully forced to play a man down for the final 30 minutes.
There was no Ponga nor Klemmer, yet the Knights showed tonight that they are the sum of a broad array of parts and now look likely to play finals’ football in 2019.
Won’t the Knights’ fans be cock-a-hoop at the thought of that?
I repeat what I said a few weeks back. Nathan Brown can indeed coach.