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2021 NRL Round 21, Knights 28 Broncos 20 – Report

Shannon Meyer reviews another game at Suncorp Stadium.

SCOREBOARD

Knights 28

Tries: Jake Clifford (19), Mitchell Pearce (37), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (45), Mitchell Barnett (58), Enari Tuala (62).

Goals: Jake Clifford (21, 38, 46, 59).

Broncos 20

Tries: Tesi Niu (12), Corey Oates (25), Xavier Willison (66), Herbie Farnworth (72).

Goals: Jamayne Isaako (68, 73)

Player of the Year Points

3 pts – Tyson Frizzell (Newcastle Knights)
2 pts – Jake Clifford (Newcastle Knights)
1 pt – Daniel Safiti (Newcastle Knights)

MATCH REPORT

1st Half

They say it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Broncos are neither in 2021. Fresh from arguably their best home performance in a few seasons, the state went into lockdown the next day and they lost their brightest star Kotoni Staggs for the rest of the season. Their record of 11 straight losses on a Thursday going into the game didn’t fill one with confidence.

Newcastle were fresh from an impressive performance themselves, and were primed to turn around a pretty ordinary record in Queensland: no local fans helped their cause. Newcastle fans equally needed a lift after joining the east coast capital in a COVID-19 lockdown.

The Knights certainly had the advantage early in an extraordinary opening to the game.

After receiving a set restart in their first set, Newcastle went on to have the ball exclusively for the first eight-and-a-half minutes. Seven sets, 29 tackles, multiple attacks at the Broncos line. Against expectations set by a poor last two seasons, Brisbane held on magnificently. It was the kind of pressure that previous Brisbane teams would have conceded at least two tries, but there seems to be more to the Broncos each week.

As the clock passed nine minutes, the Broncos finally got the ball via a scrum feed.

A set later, what happens so regularly in the NRL did just happen. After soaking up all the pressure the Broncos punished Newcastle by scoring the first try of the game. First receiver Tyson Gamble threw a perfect pass to a lurking Tesi Niu who zipped and powered his way to the right corner for the game’s first four pointer. The conversion was missed but Brisbane had a surprise 4-0 lead.

But just in case the Broncos fans were getting excited (from home) about a new direction from the Broncos, their power forward Payne Haas was taken over the sideline from the kick-off hit-up by a big Newcastle group tackle. Good work ruined but they weren’t punished immediately for it.

Just before the 20 minute mark Hymel Hunt left the field for a HIA, with Keenan Palasia placed on report. The Newcastle winger did not return.

A few sets later Newcastle had their first try of the game, and it was in complete contrast of the opening 10 minutes as the Broncos’ defense was wafer thin and poor. Standing at first receiver from a scrum 10 metres out, Jake Clifford simply jinked a little and drove through a parade of flapping arms to score beside the posts. The easy kick put the Knights in front 6-4 and the Broncos were kicking themselves for wasting those first 10 minutes.

A big 50 metre run from Herbie Farnworth from well inside the Broncos’ end set them up for a great attacking raid when Brisbane earned a penalty on the Knights line. A few plays later they turned that into points when a left side movement started by Brodie Croft saw a double pump and bullet pass from Tesi Niu which sucked in the Knights defenders and a free Corey Oates did the job – as wingers do – to score in the corner with ease. Jamayne Isaako’s second missed conversion saw the score 8-6 with 12 minutes remaining.

As good as Niu had been, he made a very simple error in fielding a bomb not long after the second Broncos try. Newcastle had the ball 10 metres out and in front, again. This time the Broncos weren’t punished but it was close as Lachlan Fitzgibbon came close to crashing through the Broncos line.

Helped downfield with a penalty for a high shot, Brisbane came close themselves a few sets later a Jesse Arthars fielded a grubber but couldn’t get it down after great covering defense from Newcastle.

The Broncos probably wished they did score as Newcastle went down the other end and retook the lead through a Mitchell Pearce try. Pearce simply decided to run the ball, and he targeted some tired right side Broncos defenders with a 10 metre charge through the Broncos pack and reached out just far enough to plant the ball. The successful conversion gave Newcastle a half-time lead of 12-8.

HALF-TIME: Newcastle Knights 12 Brisbane Broncos 8

2nd Half

Newcastle opened the second half scoring in the 45th minute after Isaako spilled a fifth tackle grubber and Lachlan Fitzgibbon chased hardest and got their first. Tyson Frizzell set up the final attack with a barnstorming 50 metre run up the middle earlier in the set. Their was some controversy about the try involving an obstruction from Bradman Best. The try was also sent upstairs as a ‘no try’ and was overruled by the Bunker.

The Knights wasted a golden opportunity a few sets later to extend the lead, but the Broncos looked exhausted from the earlier heroics.

With the mistakes creeping in and a Broncos comeback looking less likely, there was an interesting exchange between Broncos prop Palasia and the referee regarding the Brisbane forward’s repeated high tackles.

Not long after that penalty was given Newcastle extended their lead through Mitchell Barnett, who charged through some tiring Broncos defense close to the line after a fine short pass from Pearce. The Knights now led 24-8 and this game was all but over. Same for Croft who got hooked on the 60 minutes mark.

The next set Newcastle had scored again, and this was some nice rugby league. A blind side move started by Pearce to Kalyn Ponga whose run was followed up by a pass to Best, whose sharp pass was taken skillfully at pace by Enari Tuala who sped to the line from 20 metres out. The first missed conversion left the score at 28-6.

Brisbane compounded the double try by not making the short kick off go ten metres, handing Newcastle more ball and dangerous field position. They wasted that one with obstruction. And next set Brisbane made them pay.

Jesse Arthars won the contest from a Tyson Gamble bomb, and the Broncos monster newest player Xavier Willison was in the right place place at the right time to take the rebound and score his first ever try in the NRL in just his second appearance. The young Bronco has been impressive in his limited minutes in his first two starts, but a tackle on a charging Tyson Frizzell not long after he came on showed he’s up for the NRL. His enthusiasm made you wonder why he didn’t come on and relieve a tired teammate earlier: 28-14 down but 14 minutes left, the Broncos had enough time to make a surprise comeback.

That comeback was on in earnest as the Broncos scored again with seven minutes to go. After Corey Oates tore up the middle from a tap restart the run had the Broncos in Knights territory and full of momentum. A few tackles later cut-out passes from Gamble and Albert Kelly cut eventually landed in the arms of Herbie Farnworth who powered his way to the line. The successful conversion made it 28-20 with six minutes to go. All of a sudden the Broncos looked like potential winners.

But ultimately teams probably won’t win games given the amount of tackling that the Broncos had to do early, and they compounded that with way too many poor errors throughout. That’s what happened as Newcastle held on despite the Broncos trying hard.

Newcastle move temporarily to seventh, and despite the win could probably think that they should have won by a few more given the ball they had early and ball they were offered from Broncos errors. They will need to boost that for-and-against as it is the worst of the group of five teams that started the round on 18 competition points. But they have a solid base to work with now that Pearce and Ponga are fit and Clifford is becoming better with every game.

Brisbane have some positives, especially the backbone in those first 10 minutes. There’s a lot more enthusiasm than at many points of the last two seasons, but they just lack quality and a need little more experience. Some of those problems will be solved next season, but not all.

FULL-TIME: Newcastle Knights 28 Brisbane Broncos 20

Injuries

Lachlan Fitzgibbon (Knights) – shoulder
Hymel Hunt (Knights) – failed HIA

Match Review Committee

Keenan Palasia (Broncos) – Grade 2 High Tackle Careless – Early Guilty Plea 1 match ban, Guilty at Judiciary 2 match ban.

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