Julian Vella reviews an action packed Round 1 clash between two sides entering season 2021 with plenty to prove.
Newcastle Knights 32
Tries: Daniel Saifiti (7, 47), Starford To’a (31), Mitchell Barnett (38), Bradman Best (54)
Goals: Mitchell Barnett (9, 14, 40, 48, 56, 72)
Canterbury Bulldogs 16
Tries: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (3, 75), Adam Elliot (20)
Goals: Nick Meaney (21) Kyle Flanagan (76)
Player of the Year PointsEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Daniel Saifiti (Knights)
2 pts – Jayden Brailey (Knights)
1 pt – David Klemmer (Knights)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
The weather experts promised all week that this clash would likely be effected by a thunderstorm, and for once they were spot on, as the players were greeted at kickoff by a heavy downpour of rain almost as if it was scheduled to happen.
As always in such weather, ball handling and field position are vital. This old adage proved true as an early drop ball from former Bulldog David Klemmer gifted the Blue and Whites a golden chance down the Knights’ end.
After a repeat set, the Dogs made the early advantage pay as new recruit Kyle Flanagan stamped his authority on the game with a beautiful cut-out pass to find Dallin Watene-Zelezniak unmarked and over in the corner.
Although it was a dream start from Flanagan on Dogs debut, fellow new recruit Nick Cotric’s first touch was one to forget as he turned over the ball inside his own half. This gave the Knights a chance to attack and after they received a six-again call, they too crossed after former captain Mitchell Pearce laid on a beautiful pass to new co-captain Daniel Saifiti who crossed the line to score in his 100th NRL game.
Things went from bad to worse for Cotric with another error giving the Knights a chance to post more points, which they did through a penalty goal to Mitchell Barnett to give them a 8-4 lead.
The game continued to follow a familiar pattern as Knights winger Hymel Hunt dropped the ball off the kick off to give Canterbury a chance to respond. Again after a repeat set the Bulldogs were able to capitalise when Adam Elliott ran past a poor attempted tackle by Pearce to go over. Nick Meaney’s conversion gave the lead back to Canterbury.
Despite the loss of five-eighth Kurt Mann to a MCL injury, the Knights stepped up their intensity and after a couple of handling errors from another of the Dogs’ new recruits former Rabbitohs’ fullback Corey Allen.
Newcastle continued the trend of the game by making the most of their opponents’ errors by crossing in the corner through winger Star To’a, after a slick back-line play and again on the stroke of halftime through Barnett after he ran a hard line off a Connor Watson pass.
That try gave Newcastle an eight point lead at halftime and all the momentum heading into the second half.
HALF-TIME: Newcastle Knights 18 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 10Embed from Getty Images
The Bulldogs came out of the sheds firing in the second half, but their overzealous defence left holes for the Knights to exploit. And exploit they did as they forced their way down field and again crossed through Daniel Saifiti who was having a dream milestone game.
The Knights’ lead was now out to 24-10 and the Bulldogs had to be next to score, but another error in their own 20 gifted Newcastle a scrum in perfect attacking position. After a nice set play off the scrum, 19-year old centre Bradman Best burst through the line to score to send the packed McDonald Jones Stadium into raptures.
Celebrations were tempered as Best seemed to pick up a lower leg injury during the act of scoring the try, although he tried to play on, succumbing to the injury not long after and was replaced.
Already having four starting players missing the opening month of the season, ‘Doctor Newcastle’ has well and truly struck Adam O’Brien’s side again after an injury riddled season in 2020.
Newcastle’s 30-10 lead took all the heat out of the match as the result was confirmed barring a miracle comeback. A further penalty goal to Barnett was the last of the scoring for the Knights, but the Bulldogs were able to cross for a consolation try through Watene-Zelezniak who collected a double.
All in all it was a very dominant victory to Newcastle after they weathered both the thunderstorm and a fast start from Canterbury. The only concern for O’Brien will be the results of scans for both Mann and Best. For Trent Barrett his first game in charge at Canterbury didn’t result in the way he would have liked, but there were plenty of good signs and things to build on going forward.
FULL-TIME: Newcastle Knights 32 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16
Kurt Mann (Knights) – knee injury – to be monitored.
Bradman Best (Knights) – ankle sprain – to be monitored.
Match Review Committee
Nick Cotric (Bulldogs) – Grade 1 High tackle (Careless) – Early Guilty Plea taken – $1350 fine