On a cold and slippery night night in Sydney the Newcastle Knights defeated the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the first time since 2011.
With both sides affected by Wednesday night’s first State of Origin, it was hard to know which side would respond the best without some big name stars, but it didn’t take long for Newcastle to show they weren’t going to let the absence of Kayln Ponga or David Klemmer be used as an excuse.
After gaining an early repeat set the Knights spread the ball wide to their left and found stand-in fullback Kurt Mann, who delivered a nice short ball for former Bunnies centre Hymel Hunt to crash through a James Roberts tackle to cross for the opening points. Roberts – who was playing his first game for the Rabbitohs since his much-publicised exit from the Broncos – didn’t have to wait long to make up for the first try, crossing for his own after a smart kick from Adam Douehi found the Knights with no fullback and an easy try for Roberts.
The game then became very willing: with the referees losing control of the match, tempers started to flare. Rabbitohs’ Origin centre Dane Gagai and Knights’ enforcer James Gavet had a disagreement which turned into a push and shove, but this was only the start of what was to come. Newcastle continued to look the better side and after a smart one-on-one rake from Connor Watson the Knights were back on the attack and crossed through back rower Mitch Barnett after a nice short ball from Mason Lino.
With half time approaching, and the Knights leading 12-4, the game again broke out into chaos, this time it was bookends Tom Burgess and Daniel Saifiti who got in each other’s faces after a Souths play the ball. Burgess and Saifiti starting trading blows before players from both sides came running in, the end result – Burgess and Saifiti in the sin bin joined by Tom’s older brother Sam and Newcastle’s Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
With both sides down to eleven players going into the second half it was clear whoever could control possession during this period would be able to put points on the board. After Souths blew a great chance to square the game up, Newcastle went down the other end and on the back of a quick tap from Watson, the Knights put Souths on the back foot and Watson again took them on to score the try that broke the back of Souths.
The players returned from the sin bin and despite some more big collisions between Saifiti and the Burgess brothers the game fizzled out as Newcastle added another penalty goal before a late Sam Burgess try. Newcastle won the battle and the war as they took their sixth straight win, whilst Souths have now lost their last two with injuries and rep duties starting to take their toll.
Saifiti Stands Up
Just hours before the kick off the news broke that Newcastle’s State of Origin prop David Klemmer had suffered a fractured wrist during Wednesday’s Origin; Klemmer has been massive for the Knights this season earning every penny Newcastle paid for him. So with Klemmer’s big shoes needing to be filled, Daniel Saifiti stood up and led the Knights’ pack against a formidable Souths’ pack including the three Burgess boys. Saifiti seemed to take it upon himself to unsettled the trio as he came to blows with Tom whilst he had a running battle with Sam for the entire match before leaving George floored on the ground needing a HIA.
Burgess Boys Use Their Heads
The game was heated throughout, with minor push and shoves developing all the way through the first half, but the game erupted just before halftime as Tom Burgess and Saifiti came to blows. With punches thrown and players running in from everywhere, four players ended up in the sin bin; it seemed Tom had led with his head towards Saifiti which he returned serve with a flurry of punches, Sam also seemed to lunge towards Fitzgibbon with his head. It’s yet to be seen if the match review panel charges anyone, but after seeing Manly’s Corey Waddell cop a three-match ban for head butting it might be a nervous wait for two of the Burgess brothers.
Hiroti Lets It Slip
With the game reduced to eleven v eleven it was clear the match would open up and points would be easier to score with less players in the defensive line, Souths knew this was their chance to get back into the game and they had first use of the ball. After moving the ball around with purpose James Roberts found open space and kicked through for his winger Mawene Hiroti who only had to regain the ball and score, but despite receiving a good bounce Hiroti couldn’t gather the ball cleanly as he knocked on with the try line begging. A try there would have gave Souths a kick to square the game up but instead Newcastle went down the other end and scored, which in the end proved to be the most crucial passage of the game.
Watson Finding His Feet
Connor Watson always looked a good player for the Roosters in any position they played him, so when Newcastle signed him it was expected he’d hit the ground running in his preferred position of five-eighth. But a string of injuries, inconsistent performances and being moved around multiple positions, Watson has never found his feet at Newcastle – until now. Moved again to hooker after Danny Levi went down against the Roosters, Watson has produced his best football at the Knights and is now looking like the dummy half role is where his future lies; he’s scored two tries from hooker in as many games and with Levi out for a couple of months Watson has time to make the No.9 jersey his own.
Newcastle Knights 20
Tries: Hymel Hunt, Mitchell Barnett, Connor Watson
Goals: Mason Lino 4/5
Drop Goals: N/A
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
Tries: James Roberts, Sam Burgess
Goals: Dane Gagai 2/3
Drop Goals: N/A
South Sydney Rabbitohs: 1. Corey Allen 2. Mawene Hiroti 3. James Roberts 4. Dane Gagai 5. Campbell Graham 19. Connor Tracey 20. Adam Doueihi 21. 8. George Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray Interchange: 14. Tevita Tatola 15. Ethan Lowe 16. Liam Knight 22. Billy Brittain
Newcastle Knights squad: 6. Kurt Mann 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 21. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 10. Daniel Saifiti 9. Connor Watson 16. James Gavet 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby Interchange: 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Herman Ese’ese 17. Sione Mata’utia 19. Pasami Saulo