With both teams desperate for a win, the 19,000 plus crowd was expecting a close encounter culminating in a home town victory. Unfortunately, that dream was shattered after a disastrous first half.
Change Isn’t Always a Good Thing
Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown brought in several changes to the team who capitulated in the second half of last week’s game against the Dragons. Trent Hodkinson received a recall in place of Brock Lamb, Joe Wardle came in for Brendan Elliot in addition to veterans Jamie Buhrer and Josh Starling coming onto the bench. The changes didn’t stop there though with players playing different positions as the game started. For instance, Knights halfback Jaelen Feeney played right centre in defence with Wardle defending inside him. Dane Gagai also defended out of position on the left wing with Peter Mata’utia defending inside him, even though both were named as the starting centres for the game.
The end result was an incoherent performance in both attack and defence. This culminated in too many errors, brought on too many penalties and a totally ineffective first half for the Knights. Considering how close Newcastle came to securing their third win of the season last week, you have to question the many changes that were made.
The Tigers Show What They Can Do
Even though their opposition practically asked them to score points against them, the Wests Tigers took the opportunity with both hands. Time and time again the Tigers would charge through the middle third of the field and then direct their attack to Newcastle’s right edge defence. That is if they didn’t end up scoring through the middle to begin with. The likes of Tuimoala Lolohea and Moses Suli had a field day running at Wardle and Feeney, making line break after line break. Luke Brooks took the line on several times creating space for his outside men or simply making line breaks of his own.
The 20-0 first half score line could have been even greater if Kevin Naiqama had found an unmarked David Nofoaluma or if Lolohea had held onto the ball when he was practically over the line. In any case, the Tigers left their opposition in their wake in the first forty. It proved to be more than enough to get the valuable two points.
Brooks Starting To Get His Groove Back
As stated above, Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks looked like the same Luke Brooks from when he burst onto the scene in 2013. In short, he looked to run first and pass later. It is fair to say that the Tigers looked much more dangerous because of it. Playing more direct, Brooks made two line breaks, created more space for his outside backs that resulted in even more line breaks or tries that have been lacking in 2017 and also scored a try of his own by backing up through the middle of the field. Tigers fans will be hoping that this is the kickstart that Brooks and his Tigers teammates have needed to finish the season on a high.
Yes, Newcastle made it look easy for Brooks and the Tigers at times, but the fact the young halfback showed great intent by looking for opportunities to make an impact was a great change to what we have seen so far this season.
No Contract Equals No Confidence For Feeney
The playing future of Newcastle halfback Jaelen Feeney is up in the air with Newcastle not offering him a contract for the 2018 season at this point in time. It is clear that this is having an effect on his form. Despite Feeney showing glimpses of talent, his consistency has not been what it needs to be for Feeney himself nor his team. He is not playing with confidence, and it has to be said, coach Nathan Brown playing him out of position in defence today did not help this situation. Time and time again, Feeney was targeted by the Wests Tigers attack and more often than not, this paid dividends. After his lacklustre performance in this game, it would not surprise to see him drop out of the squad for Newcastle’s next game against the Bulldogs next Sunday.
The halfback position at Newcastle is anything but stable though with Feeney, young gun Brock Lamb and high-priced Trent Hodkinson all having opportunities but failing to cement a spot in 2017. However, if Lamb is considered a long-term prospect and Feeney has not been given a lifeline beyond this season, why is Feeney being given first grade playing time and not Lamb? And what is the plan for Hodkinson? It doesn’t appear that anybody, especially Brown, has any answers.
Tries: Watene Zelezniak (8m), Liddle (24m), Naiqama (27m), Nofoaluma (55m), Brooks (80m)
Goals: Lolohea 6/7
Field Goal: Brooks (77m)
Tries: Fitzgibbon (62m), Wardle (66m)
Goals: Hodkinson 2/2