Milestone matches generally produce the desired result and the Wests Tigers found the perfect way to celebrate Robbie Farah’s 300th against the Knights, on a glorious night in the Hunter.
Against the script, things started poorly for the Lebanese international and it took just four minutes for the Knights to open the scoring.
Jesse Ramien crossed almost immediately and, when Kalyn Ponga did the same just three minutes later, the home side had built an early advantage and were threatening to derail Farah’s celebrations. With both tries converted, the Knights led 12-0.
Both sides had entered the contest off the back of three straight defeats and a loss for the Tigers would death knell their season. For the Knights, a loss would most likely see them slip out of the top eight and raise serious questions around their ability to be a semi-final contender.
The early points to Newcastle were full of enthusiasm and bravado but the Tigers were in the contest for the long haul and for Robbie. That spirit was clearly evident when the black and gold fought back and Corey Thompson’s try in the 22nd minute brought them within six points.
Frankly, the first half was far from anything to write home about. Tim Glasby should have added a third try for the Knights in the 30th minute after using Benji Marshall as a human speed bump, however, he failed to ground the ball after excellent pressure in the in-goal area from David Nofoaluma.
Thompson scored his second try with four minutes remaining in the opening half and, when Marshall reached out with his right arm to score in the 39th minute, Moses Mbye’s conversion sent the Tigers to the sheds with a surprising 18-12 lead.
What followed in the second half was a to and fro affair between two sides most likely making up the numbers in 2019, yet it was a contest as willing as a game of rugby league can be.
Second half Newcastle tries to Hymel Hunt, Tautau Moga and Shaun Kenny-Dowall were matched by four pointers to Robbie Farah and Paul Momorovski for the Tigers and the teams entered the final ten minutes with the visitors holding a slender 28-26 lead.
With the game in the balance, Ponga was sent to the sin-bin for an alleged shoulder charge on a Tigers player in the potential act of scoring. There was no attempt to use the arms in the tackle and by the letter of the law, he looked guilty.
However, many will question exactly what the fullback was supposed to do in his efforts to prevent the try, aside from entering and attempting to disrupt the contest.
His dismissal left the Knights without their main weapon and toothless over the final minutes. The Tigers were good enough to grind their way to victory and secure two competition points that bring them right back into semi-final contention.
Sadly, another disappointing crowd was on hand for the prime time Friday night clash between South Sydney and St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium.
In defiance, the two teams put on a grand show. The closely fought 20-16 win for the Rabbitohs saw the Dragons snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and South Sydney maintain their run towards a top-four finish and a home final.
The logic, bookies odds and common sense suggested the Bunnies were highly likely to grasp an opportunity to confirm their premiership credentials against the floundering Dragons.
However, early on neither side was able to take the initiative and, in what became something of a lack lustre first half hour, an exchange of penalty goals was all that bothered the scoreboard attendant.
A 31st minute try to Dane Gagai was the sole four pointer in the first half and the Bunnies took a 6-2 lead into the break after the earlier penalty goals from Adam Reynolds and Gareth Widdop.
A try to Cody Walker stretched Souths’ lead early in the second half before Jason Saab stunned the home side with two tries and Gareth Widdop’s conversions brought the teams level at 14 apiece.
The impossible seemed possible for just a brief moment and after a correct offside ruling against Souths, Widdop lined up for what appeared to be the match winning penalty goal attempt.
In retrospect, the Dragons may wish they sent the ball over the sideline and denied the Bunnies field position.
As soon as Widdop did the business and converted the opportunity to send the Dragons to a 16-14 lead, the Rabbitohs were back on the attack.
When Campbell Graham scored in the corner with less than 20 seconds remaining on the clock, the latest St George Illawarra nightmare had come true.
Adam Reynolds’ conversion was just the icing on the Rabbitohs’ cake and another nail in the coffin that has become the Dragons’ season.
Now 14th and with a wooden spoon threatening, Paul McGregor’s position must be close to untenable.