The under pressure Newcastle Knights finally broke their five-game losing streak with a comprehensive 28-14 victory over a flat Parramatta Eels side in front of 19,604 fans at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Newcastle was desperate for a good start to the game after suffering slow starts in their previous two matches against Manly and the Gold Coast, and that’s exactly what they got with the side’s line speed in defence they had the Eels on the back foot from the kickoff. The strong early defence was complimented with plenty of go forward and purpose in attack from the Knights who enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball in the opening exchanges.
The early pressure and energy resulted in first points through a penalty goal to Kalyn Ponga, the Knights’ mercurial No.1 then added another six points in the very next set when hooker Danny Levi scooted from dummy half to break the Eels wide open and send Ponga away for the first try of the game. The Knights weren’t done yet and with more pressure and field possession they scored again through back rower Mitch Barnett who chased down a perfectly weighted Mitchell Pearce grubber kick to make the score 14-0. Pearce’s short kicking game along with Levi’s dummy half running was the catalyst for the Knights’ quick start.
Another try before the half-hour mark through big prop James Gavet off another Levi run had the Knights’ fans partying like it was 1997, 20-0 before the Eels had even fired a shot coach Brad Arthur must have been wondering where his side from last week had gone. It took the Eels until the 36th minute to finally get on the scoreboard as Fijian winger Maika Sivo crossed after a nice cut-out ball from fellow winger Blake Ferguson, the scoreline could have been even closer before halftime as Sivo again crossed in the corner only for the pass to be called forward.
The Eels may have started slowly but they had worked their way into the game and despite trailing 20-8 at halftime one felt they had all the momentum going into the second half, Newcastle started well again after the break but it was the Eels who crossed first through Manu Ma’u to bring the game back to 20-14. But the Eels squandered the momentum they had produced by making crucial errors and giving away silly penalties, one which gifted Ponga another penalty goal to take the difference between the sides over one converted try.
The Knights then sealed the game when captain Pearce took the line on and scored a great individual try, the manner in which Pearce attacked the line with a right and left foot step whilst carrying defenders over the line was very reminiscent of one former great Knights’ halfback and captain a certain Andrew Johns, this sealed the game and their second win of the season, a much-needed one for the club, players, coach and fans.
It’s a Funny Old Game
It’s a funny old game sometimes this Rugby League stuff, only a week ago the Knights had just put in their worst performance in quite some time losing 38-14 against an injury-ravaged Titans side who themselves have been struggling this season. Conceding no less than three tries directly off handling errors caused the squad’s desire and commitment to be brought into question, so coming up against a Parramatta side who had just opened their new stadium with a 51-6 win over the Tigers seemed an uphill task. But as is usually the way in the NRL the side who looked disinterested and soft the week before came out of the sheds firing, whilst the side who looked like they were world beaters the week before seemed to forget the game had kicked off until about half an hour into the contest.
Under Fire Knights Strike Back
Newcastle had been under the pump all week in the press with just about every faction of the club brought into question, rumours had been floated about a ‘party culture’ within the playing group, whilst the senior players and coach Nathan Brown weren’t spared with Brown’s job security being a hot topic. After back-to-back poor performances which back-ended a five-game losing streak there were even suggestions Brown had lost the change room, so another poor performance this week would have pushed the entire club to breaking point. But the response from the players was exactly what was wanted from the fans and their beleaguered coach, 20-0 at the half-hour mark showed the players had gotten the point and reacted accordingly.
Game Changing Call
After the Knights had shot away to their early lead of 20-0 the Eels finally decided they wanted to play, and just before halftime it looked as though they had brought themselves right back into the contest as winger Maika Sivo crossed for what would have been his second try, only for the touch judge to call the lead up pass forward. Replays showed the pass looked fine as the Eels were wrongly denied a try which could have brought the scoreline to 20-12 at halftime, the Eels were able to score the next eight points to bring themselves within one try of the Knights, but were overrun in the end.
Danny’s Day Out
Newcastle’s much-maligned hooker Danny Levi came into this clash under big pressure after starting the season well under par Levi’s future at the club looked to be nearing to a close after respected Newcastle Journalist Barry Toohey reported the Kiwi international has been told he is free to explore his options by the club. It’s not clear whether Levi took instructions from coach Brown to run the ball more, or that with his job on the line he decided he’d do what he’s best at, whichever way it was Levi had his best game in a Knights’ jersey for quite some time. Levi ran the ball 8 times for 106 metres which included 1 line break and 2 try assists a massive improvement on what he’s produced to date in 2019.
Tries: Ponga, Barnett, Gavet, Pearce
Goals: Ponga 6/6
Drop Goals: n/a
Tries: Sivo, Ma’u
Goals: Moses 3/3
Drop Goals: n/a
Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Hymel Hunt, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6. Connor Watson, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Danny Levi, 16. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Mitchell Barnett, 13. Tim Glasby, 10. James Gavet, 15. Herman Ese’ese, 17. Josh King, 20. Sione Mata’utia
Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson, 2. Maika Sivo, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Brad Takairangi, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. Jaeman Salmon, 7. Mitchell Moses, 14. Peni Terepo, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Junior Paulo, 11. Shaun Lane, 12. Marata Niukore, 13. Tepai Moeroa, 15. Tim Mannah, 16. Oregon Kaufusi, 17. Ray Stone, 18. Manu Ma’u