ROUND 7: Newcastle Knights v. Parramatta Eels (McDonald Jones Stadium, 28/4/19)
The Eels had scored one of their most devastating wins in recent history when they triumphed over the Eels at Bankwest in Round 6, while also putting down a historical victory to claim their new home venue. Their next game was always going to be an anticlimax after that dominant performance, but it was still surprising to see just how clinically Newcastle took control of the match at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Knights scored more than one point per minute over the first fourteen minutes, thanks to a superb sequence of sustained field position that started when a Mitchell Moses kick was charged down following some big pressure from Tim Glasby. Parra then mounted a sterling defensive effort, as an offload from Jesse Ramien almost sent Conor Watson over on the right edge, and Ramien followed up with his own run at the line, only to be skittled by one of the trysaving tackles of the year from Maika Sivo.
Nevertheless, Mitchell Pearce got a dropout at Moses’ expense, and with Tepai Moeroa penalised for a slow peel, Kalyn Ponga booted through the first two points of the afternoon. Danny Levi compounded a great opening with a linebreak on the second tackle of the restart, scooting past Reed Mahoney before popping the ball back inside to Ponga. From there, all Kalyn had to do was accelerate up through the middle of the field, fading away from Moses and Sivo to score beneath the posts.
The Knights looked even better on the next set, which started with an enormous effort from David Klemmer that took the combined strength of Shaun Lane and Michael Jennings to keep his post-contact metres manageable. On the left edge of the field, Lachlan Fitzgibbon forced a leg pull from Junior Paulo, before executing a stunning trysaving sequence slightly later in the set, following another run at the right edge from Ramien on the third tackle.
Fitzgibbon’s moment in the spotlight came at the end of another pinpoint kick from Pearce. At first, it looked as if a dropout was the best that the Knights could hope for, but instead Fitzgibbon got inside Blake Ferguson, and ducked beneath Clint Gutherson, to slam the Steeden to ground before either player could scoop it up or boot it into touch. While Gutho had been caught in the ruck, there was no excuse for Fergo, who was caught napping as Fitzgibbon stole a try in front of his nose.Embed from Getty Images
Once again, Ponga added the extras, bringing the Knights to a fourteen point lead before fourteen minutes had even passed. It was a sober contrast to the Eels’ performance at Bankwest the week before, and an unfortunate way for Ferguson to return to the team. Things got worse ten minutes later, when Moses and Peni Terepo combined for one of the worst fumbling errors of their season, while Marata Nikuore followed up with a mistake in the ruck a few minutes later.
The Eels had only enjoyed two tackles in Newcastle’s half in the first twenty-one minutes, and needed one of their key playmakers to step up and take control of the game. Shortly after, Jennings took a quick tap, but Lee cleaned up Moses’ bomb without any effort, despite Ferguson clamouring for an obstruction penality. A big hit on Moses from Pearce was followed by a linebreak from Hymel Hunt, setting up James Gavet to cross over beside the posts on his first touch of the football.
Once again, Levi played a critical role, taking the ball into the line, and holding up the defence just long enough for Gavet to glimpse a space from ten metres out, before storming through Mahoney, Paulo and Manu Ma’u, who was back on the field for the first time since sustaining his cheekbone injury last year. Parra had now gone from a 45-point win to a 20-point deficit, while the Knights had clocked up 20 points in 30 minutes despite only averaging 14 points a game so far this year.
It had been a huge afternoon for Levi, who notched up fifteen metres and looked like breaking through the line moments later. It had also been a big afternoon for Pearce, who was rolling as if he’d been studying the Parramatta playbook since their win at Bankwest, clearly determined to assert his strength over Moses after the conversations that started around Mitch’s Origin contention over the previous week.
All of Pearce’s energy culminated with a huge play in the last ten minutes, when he cleaned up Gutherson right on the Newcastle line, before scooping up the last kick before Ferguson could get a hand to it. Barking orders at the team at the start of the next set, Pearce was even more emphatic in leadership than usual, but his instructions wouldn’t do any good this time, since Parra now got a period of sustained field position that resulted in their first and only try of this opening stanza.Embed from Getty Images
They started with some rapid movement over to their left edge, where they received six again before Tim Mannah straightened the play and very nearly crashed over. From there, a pair of wide balls took them out to the right, where Gutherson was cleaned up by Hunt, only for Hunt to be called offside two tackles later, getting the blue and gold army six again. A massive tackle from Ma’u on the first carry laid the platform for a probing set that culminated with a harbor bridge ball from Ferguson to Sivo, winger to winger, that sent the massive unit over for his first NRL try.
It was the perfect combination to restore Parramatta’s self-belief. Not only had Sivo translated his opening trysaver into attacking acumen, but Ferguson had finally got into the game after a slow start that felt positively sluggish by contrast to the Eels’ barnstorming performance the week before. With an offside error from Mitch Barnett gifting Moses a penalty kick right on the siren, Parra managed to regain a bit of momentum before they headed into the sheds, although it would still take them some time to score.
Neither team managed to put down points in the first ten minutes of the second stanza, which started with one of the most egregious refereeing bungles of the year so far. Despite being a few metres away, with a clear sightline, the touch judge failed to note Fitzgibbon blatantly stripping the ball from Ferguson. Luckily for both the judge and the Eels, however, it came to nothing when Pearce made a forward pass towards the end of the set.
When the Parramatta points did come, twelve minutes in, they were surprisingly understated after such a long wait, imbuing the next part of their game with a newfound confidence. Stealing the spotlight away from Levi, Mahoney collected the footy right on the line, before sending a short ball across to Ma’u that allowed the big man to slice through the defence like butter, before he curled around to ground the ball behind the posts.
For a moment, it looked as if he might have mirrored Sonny Bill Williams in the 2013 World Cup by putting a foot over the chalk while grounding the ball, but the replay showed that it was all fine, and Moses slotted through the extras moments later. The combination of Ma’u’s strength with the silky elegance of Mahoney’s assist made this a perfect consolidation play, putting the Eels a mere converted try behind the Knights, who were yet to score in this second stanza.Embed from Getty Images
The Knights got two more points after Ray Stone was penalised for holding back, but it wasn’t long before the Eels enjoyed a bout of sustained possession that recalled their stellar end to the first half. It started with an error from Shaun Kenny-Dowall under a Moses bomb, and proceeded through a hand in the ruck from Klemmer on the last tackle of the next set, but came to nothing after a handling error from Terepo.
Newcastle took this as a sign to consolidate, resulting in their most assertive defence of the night – a combined effort from Pearce and Lee to drag Fergo into touch after he’d dexterously caught the footy in his right hand right on the sideline. The icing on the red and blue cake came when a Moses bomb hit Moeroa on the chest, and Lee came up with it. Four tackles later, Pearce ran at the line, for what initially seemed like a straightening play, only to score the last try of the night himself.
In slow motion, Pearce’s effort looked even more massive – a left foot step and right foot step that got him between Mahoney and Paulo, before he made a gutsy effort to reach out a hand and ground the Steeden after being felled a metre out from the line. It was the perfect conclusion to Pearce’s most focused and visionary game of the year, and a brilliant riposte to Moses’ Origin-worthy performance at Bankwest last week. Hopefully the Knights will be able to maintain the rage when they head across the ditch to play the Warriors next week, while the Eels will be looking to bounce back quickly when they host St. George for their second game at Bankwest.
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