The Newcastle Knights recorded their seventh win of the season on Friday night, defeating the Parramatta Eels by just two points in an enthralling contest at McDonald Jones Stadium.
A promising line-break from Eels winger George Jennings in the first two minutes set the tone for what would be a sublime first ten minutes for the boys from Parramatta. After just four minutes, prop Siosaia Vave made the most of the Eels’ great field position and barged over the top of Knights Nick Meaney and Josh King to score the first try of the match under the posts. The Eels second try came just six minutes later to Mitchell Moses, courtesy of Jarryd Hayne’s scintillating 50 metre run out of dummy half and a clever in field kick from winger Bevan French. On the back of a penalty, the Knights hit back and opened their scoring with a fortunate try to Connor Watson in the 14thminute. Poor discipline and countless handling errors from the Eels gave the Knights valuable field position and the opportunity to continually mount pressure on their opponents. After a sublime defensive set by the Knights, debuting Meaney showed his class when he floated a pass over the top of two Eels defenders to Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who scored their second try and levelled the score-line (10-10) going into half-time.
Strong metres from the Knights forwards and a blistering run from Meaney put the Eels on the back foot in the opening exchanges of the second half. When defending their try line, a defensive error by Eels backrower Brad Takairangi created a yawning gap from which the Knights took advantage, sending a charging Mitchell Pearce over to score the first try of the second half. Despite being dominated in both attack and defence for the following 10 minutes, the Eels managed to get themselves out of trouble and score a try against the run of play. This came off the back of the individual brilliance shown by centre Hayne, in which he stepped four Knights defenders and created the space for Corey Norman to run 40 metres to score. After being gifted with a penalty 20 metres out from their own line, Ken Sio kicked a penalty goal to put the Knights ahead 18-16 with 20 minutes left on the clock. It was a game of millimetres in the final minute for Eels winger Bevan French, who was denied the match winning try after his left foot scraped the touchline when he was grounding the ball in the in-goal. The Knights managed to hold on for a valiant, two-point victory (18-16) in front of their home crowd.
Eels Rue Errors
Despite looking promising in the opening exchanges, the Eels reverted to old habits and made error after error, making it extremely difficult for them to mount any pressure on the Knights’ defence or get their attack flowing. Their nine handling errors primarily included forward passes, knock-ons and incorrect play the balls – all of which are simple skills that they train so hard to perfect. Their poor completion rate and number of unnecessary penalties came back to haunt them in the end, with the Knights gifted the winning penalty goal after an illegal strip from the Eels.
The return of halfback Mitchell Pearce from a pectoral injury inevitably proved the difference for the Knights, as he scored a crucial try and had a hand in another. The leadership and control that Pearce brought to the Knights’ attack was timely, given the injuries to fullback Kalyn Ponga and hooker Slade Griffin. When considering that they only won two of ten games without Pearce, his return showed how important his stability, patience and direction are to the Knights.
Touch Line Devastates Eels
Oh, so close. The 15,860 people in attendance were holding their breath when watching the replay to see whether Eels winger Bevan French had gone into touch as he put down a Corey Norman grubber kick with just 34 seconds remaining. However, the boys from Parramatta appeared to be out of luck once again, with the verdict coming back as a ‘No Try’. For the Eels, it was another devastating end to a scrappy affair that could have been closed out if they executed more cleanly.
Young Talent Time
In the absence of fullback Kalyn Ponga, fullback Nick Meaney had a debut he will remember for a long time. Growing in confidence with every touch, he finished the game with 109 running metres and an involvement in two of the Knights’ three tries. By utilising his speed to target the tiring Eels forwards, he created many attacking opportunities from which they capitalised on. In front of a packed McDonald Jones Stadium, Meaney showcased his talent and proved that he belongs in the NRL arena.
Newcastle Knights 18
Tries: Connor Watson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mitchell Pearce
Goals: Ken Sio 3
Parramatta Eels 16
Tries: Siosaia Vave, Mitchell Moses, Corey Norman
Goals: Clint Gutherson 2
Newcastle Knights: 1 Nicholas Meaney, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Cory Denniss, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Josh King, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Mitch Barnett, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Herman Ese’ese. Interchange: 14 Nathan Ross, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jamie Buhrer (c), 17 Jacob Lillyman.
Paramatta Eels: 1 Clint Gutherson (c), 2 Bevan French, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 George Jennings, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Siosaia Vave, 11 Marata Niukore, 12 Brad Takairangi, 13 Nathan Brown. Interchange: 14 Tepai Moeroa, 15 Tim Mannah (c), 16 David Gower, 17 Peni Terepo.