The rugby league community always comes together when one of their own needs help. Many are now doing their part to help those affected by the devastating Tongan volcano eruption that took place in mid-January.
The committed Newcastle Knights have outlasted the Manly Sea Eagles 18-10 in the closing match of Indigenous round.
Ill discipline hurt the Sea Eagles, losing Sean Keppie and Martin Taupau to the sin bin. Manly were also on the wrong end of a whopping 9-0 penalty count. They received their first penalty, with the sin binning of David Klemmer, in the final minute.
This will only add to the frustration for coach Des Hasler, whose team failed to reach the heights achieved last weekend.
It was clear early that the Sea Eagles were in for a tough afternoon. Newcastle started the match with plenty of purpose and it was only early errors that denied them the first strike.
After a Phoenix Crossland kick rolled dead, the Sea Eagles scored against the run of play with ten minutes gone. Daly Cherry-Evans put Kane Lawton into a big gap. He found Brad Parker backing up on the outside and Manly were on the board first.
Their second try, 15 minutes before the break, also came against the run of play. Lachlan Fitzgibbon knocked on with his side on attack. Jason Saab was the first to swoop and no one was going to run him down on a 80-metre run to the line. With the conversion successful, Manly led 10-0.
The game swung minutes later. Back-to-back penalties gave the Knights field position. Crossland took the last-tackle kick but was hit high and late by Sean Keppie. Keppie was sent to the sin bin with eight minutes left in the half.
From the resulting penalty, some slick work from Connor Watson and Enari Tuala resulted in a Starford To’a try in the corner.
Watson was involved again five minutes later with a terrific face ball to Sauaso Sue, who dived in under the posts. Incredibly, by halftime, the Knights had established a 12-10 lead.
The Knights were running with a strong breeze in the first half. The expectation was that the Sea Eagles, with more possession and a superior kicking game, would wear the Knights down.
However, the wind eased and the Knights’ forwards just kept on making big metres. Unlike the footy we have seen this season, this was a tough, grinding variety of NRL.
Taupau was sin binned with just over 20 minutes remaining and you could sense Newcastle’s belief was growing. The Taupau ruling was a strange one, given he was hurled out the back of the collision with Daniel Saifiti, but it was a shoulder to the head.
The Knights forwards were winning the middle and Crossland was bombing to Saab repeatedly. Although Tom Trbojevic tried to make an impact, the Newcastle defence was too good.
With two minutes to go, the Knights scored the first points of the second half to secure the win. Jayden Brailey dummied right and found Daniel Saifiti behind the ruck. He was too strong for the defence. The 18-10 scoreline gave Newcastle one of their more courageous wins in recent seasons.
It may well also prove a turning point in their season, with Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann to return shortly. If their forward pack can maintain the same type of resolve they showed today, they could yet force their way into the top eight.
Three points: Connor Watson was Newcastle’s best, having a hand in two of the Knights’ tries and being the focal point for the attack all afternoon. In a low-scoring match, his input was key.
Two points: The Knights’ starting front row of David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti were very good this afternoon but Saifiti’s late try edges him in front. The Newcastle pack has copped some flak over the past few weeks but Saifiti was close to the best on the ground today.
One point: Mitchell Barnett has become one of the Knights’ most consistent players and he was there again this afternoon. Other than a large number of damaging hit ups, he played a lot of second receiver against the Sea Eagles, moving the Knights forward.