A Knights side missing six of their key players showed great spirit, but it wasn’t enough as the Warriors snuck home with a 24-20 victory in a desperate bid to keep their season alive.
Despite looking woeful in their round 15 loss, the Warriors were heavily favoured to defeat a Knights team lacking several of their stars, but the crowd at McDonald Jones Stadium witnessed a tight tussle with the home side almost overcoming the odds.
The Knights were first to score via a Mason Lino penalty goal in the 6th minute after an error, and two penalties against the Warriors had the home side in good field position. Handling errors haunted both sides but the Warriors took the opportunity to level the scores 2-2 via an Issac Luke penalty goal 9 minutes later after Lino was penalised for a dangerous tackle.
The Warriors looked to have scored moments later when David Fusitu’a displayed his signature dive in the corner, but it was denied due to a knock on by Kodi Nikorima at the start of the play. Fusitu’a was back at it again a few sets later but knocked on a corner kick to let the Knights off the hook.
At the 27 minute mark the try drought was broken when after a scrappy series of plays, Lachlan Fitzgibbon was able to put Sione Mata’utia into space to score, Lino’s conversion pushed the Knights ahead 8-2. At this point, the Knights appeared to have control of the match with the Warriors only threatening the Knights line once more in the first half. The Knights ended the half in style, scoring a length of the field try after Fusitu’a failed to ground the loose ball gifting Fitzgibbon the easiest try of his career, Lino’s missed conversion meant the Knights went into the break leading 12-2.
Whatever was said at halftime appeared to work as the Warriors emerged from the tunnel a different team and scored 3 minutes into the second half, helped in part by three back to back penalties against the home side, Luke’s conversion inched the Warriors closer 12-8. The Warriors didn’t stop there as they surged up the field and put Ken Maumalo over in the corner for his first try of the evening, Luke missed the conversion, but the try levelled the scores once again 12-12.
Maumalo went from hero to villain when he knocked the ball in the next set, handing the Knights some much-needed possession, a penalty against the Warriors soon followed, and Lino pushed the Knights ahead once again with a successful penalty goal. The Knights discipline got the best of them moments later when they were penalised for a high tackle that saw the Warriors take advantage of some poor defensive reads and put Maumalo over in the corner once again; Luke nailed the conversion this time pushing the Warriors in front 18-14.
Knights fans had a nerve-racking moment a few sets later when Lino bobbled a Blake Green grubber in the in-goal area, but he was able to ground it before any of the New Zealand side pounced on it. A few sets later it appeared that Maumalo had scored his third try of the night, but the bunker disallowed it advising that the giant winger had lost possession.
The Knights continued to look threatening whenever they had possession and cruised down the field scoring via Mata’utia; Lino handed the Knights the lead once again 20-18 with his conversion. Warriors fans started to have flashbacks to last week as the clock began to wind down, the Warriors had several chances but failed to convert them until Sam Lisone latched onto a deflected grubber to score his first try of the year, Lukes conversion handed the Warriors back the lead 24-20.
Both sides displayed desperation in the dying stages of the match with the Knights throwing the ball around trying to create a much-needed scoring opportunity, but it wasn’t to be as despite losing Agnatius Paasi to the sin-bin the Warriors defended relentlessly until the final whistle blew handing them a much-needed victory.
2019 continues to be the Ken Maumalo’s break out year. Before this season Maumalo had scored 14 tries in his career with the New Zealand side and in 2019 alone he has scored another 12. The Warriors have had a dreadful season to date but one thing their fans can be proud of this year is the growth Ken has shown and look forward to how dangerous he will be by the time 2020 comes around.
Knights show Spirit
Missing Slade Griffin, Mitch Barnett, Kalyn Ponga, Edrick Lee, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Tim Glasby, the Knights were written off by most before the match even started, but they almost got the result. This ultimately shows that the plans Nathan Brown has in place for this side work and the young players would have learned a lot from this match and will be all the better for it.
Teams will need to be wary of this side when their stars return, and the playoffs loom.
Still a long road ahead
They may have got the win here, but the Warriors have a lot of work to do if they are to keep their season alive. Their first-half performance highlighted their woes as they were predictable on attack and exposed on defence. It is fair to say that if the Knights had their full roster in this match that this game may have been over at halftime, but the Warriors were able to show some signs of the attack they were known for last season when they emerged for the second half.
Their fans will be begging that the side that turned up for the second half will show up when they face the Broncos next week.
Refereeing in question once again
The referees had a night to forget here with several questionable calls going against both sides. The Knights first try appeared to come after a Lino knock on, Maumalo’s second try looked to come from a forward pass.
The commentator’s questioned Mata’utia’s second try being scored while Peta Hiku appeared to be in trouble after a head knock, not to mention Maumalo’s third try seemed to be incorrectly denied by the bunker. Both coaches were unhappy with decisions made by the officials tonight but are hamstrung with what they can actually say. The NRL needs to take a look at how they fix the issues they have every week with the men in the middle as apologising for mistakes during the week is not good enough.
New Zealand Warriors 24
Tries: Peta Hiku, Ken Maumalo (2), Sam Lisone
Goals: Issac Luke 4/5
Newcastle Knights 20
Tries: Sione Mata’utia (2), Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Goals: Mason Lino 4/5
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. David Fusitu’a, 3. Peta Hiku, 18. Gerard Beale, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Kodi Nikorima, 7. Blake Green, 8. Agnatius Paasi, 9. Karl Lawton, 10. Leeson Ah Mau, 11. Adam Blair, 12. Isaiah Papalii, 13. Jazz Tevaga, 14. Issac Luke, 15. Bunty Afoa, 16. Sam Lisone, 17. Lachlan Burr
Knights: 1. Connor Watson, 2. Hymel Hunt, 12. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6. Mason Lino, 3. Kurt Mann, 8. James Gavet, 9. Danny Levi, 16. Josh King, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 14. Jamie Buhrer, 15. Herman Ese’ese, 10. Jacob Saifiti, 17. Pasami Saulo, 18. Aidan Guerra, 23. Phoenix Crossland