ROUND 8: New Zealand Warriors v. Newcastle Knights (Mt. Smart Stadium, 5/2/19)

The Knights followed their win over Parramatta with an equally rousing victory over the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday afternoon. Kalyn Ponga added the first two points three minutes in, following an escorts penalty from Chanel Harris-Tavita, while the Knights made even more of the next penalty, a dangerous tackle from Lachlan Burr on David Klemmer at the end of the next Newcastle set. Four tackles later, Mitchell Pearce made a captain’s effort to dummy and break through the line on the left edge, following up his best performance of 2019 against the Eels last week with the first try of the game.

With Ponga adding the extras, Newcastle had scored more than a point a minute. Yet at the end of their next set, Pearce made the unusual decision to kick for touch on the last, instead of opting to apply more pressure on the Warriors, who already looked exhausted, and had barely gotten a hand to the football. New Zealand now got a bit of breathing-space, and then three straight penalties to help them back up the other end of the field, culminating with an unintentional trip from Ponga on Harris-Tavita that saw the Newcastle fullback put on report.

After all that additional field position, it was not surprising that the Warriors’ first try was as simple as the Knights’, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck running into the line to put Patrick Herbert across for his first try in first grade. The next Newcastle try came just as suddenly, however, thanks to a crossfield kick from Pearce nineteen minutes in. Shaun Kenny-Dowall caught the footy cleanly above Ken Maumalo on the right edge, fumbling it for a second, but never allowing it to make any contact with the New Zealand winger (although their hands touched) before regathering it to score.

This sequence all came down to competition, since Maumalo could easily have taken control of the football, but hadn’t counted on SKD’s enormous kick chase. An enormous defensive set from Newcastle followed, keeping the Warriors within their own twenty by the fourth tackle, only for Klemmer to clamber over Hiku on the fourth, giving away a crowding penalty, and providing the Warriors with a boost as the shadows started to lengthen across Mt. Smart. The Knights survived, though, as Watson, Mata’utia and Ponga managed to clean up Hiku on the final tackle.

Pearce now put through his poorest kick of the night so far – a bomb that only made it to the New Zealand thirty – but Edrick Lee was able to clean up Blake Green’s kick easily at the end of the next set, since there was virtually no chase from the home team. Nevertheless, the Warriors got another chance to start from the thirty on the following set, as Pearce’s kick was charged down, forcing Ponga to send an emergency kick down the left side of the park.

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Slowly but surely, New Zealand were starting to creep back into the game, so it was a big turnaround when Watson scooped up a forward pass from Harris-Tavita, and shifted it across to SKD to charge down the field to start their seven tackle set. Adam Blair expressed all of the home team’s panic and frustration with a dangerous tackle, while Harris compounded the Newcastle advantage with an offside penalty. This time, Ponga took the two, putting the Knights ten ahead with ten minutes left on the clock.

Two minutes later, Maumalo got his own back from SKD, as the ex-Rooster failed to clean up a crossfield kick from Green, allowing Hiku to pop the footy back to Harris, who shifted it across to Maumalo to score. Despite a linebreak from Hiku a minute out from the end, the Warriors went into the sheds four points behind, concluding one of the most suspenseful and closely-matched opening halves of football in Round 8. On the other side of the Steeden, the Knights had lost some of their opening momentum, and needed to make a big statement when they returned.

Ponga got things rolling right away by trapping Beale in goal to force a dropout, and while Gavet might have got no joy while trying to milk a penalty from Roache early in the tackle count, Blair obliged with a slow peel on the very next play. The Knights wisely chose to take the two, putting themselves a converted try ahead, but Ponga now briefly worked against them, wasting some good field position following a forward pass from Isaiah Papali’i. Not only did Ponga’s harbor bridge pass travel too far back for Lee to capitalise on it, but his knock-on gave the Warriors the ball back.

This was only the second incomplete set of the night for Newcastle, following an imposing 16/16 during the opening stanza. It was critical for the Warriors to take advantage of it, and they did, with Hiku sending Maumalo across for a double on the left edge, off the back of a deft cut-out pass from Harris-Tavita. Nevertheless, these would be the last points scored by the Warriors, with Chanel’s conversion attempt bouncing off the uprights, and the Knights now proceeding to put down three unanswered tries to recapture their splendid opening momentum.

Luck now seemed to be on Newcastle’s side, as James Gavet got away with a crusher-like motion on Lachlan Burr. A crossfield kick from Pearce then got the Knights a repeat set after Beale spilled the footy and Hymel Hunt came up with it. Following a pummeling run at the line from Watson on the second tackle, Pearce shifted the ball left, before popping it back inside to Herman Ese’ese, who continued the change in direction by swivelling the Steeden around for Mata’utia to break through the line and put down his first four-pointer of the year.

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With Ponga adding the extras, the Knights had regained their converted try lead. The game had been neck-and-neck, so it felt quite possible that the Warriors would be the next to score. Yet Newcastle remained dominant, putting down their next try on the back of a double knock-on from Herbert and Fitzgibbon. Two plays out of the scrum feed looked like tryscoring opportunities – a massive run from Mitch Barnett on the third tackle, and then a harbor bridge pass from Ponga to SKD on the fourth that prompted one of the trysaving tackles of the night from Tohu Harris.

Once again, however, the magic ingredient was a crossfield kick from Pearce, who booted the footy over to the left corner, where Lee leaped up and tapped it directly back into the hands of Hymel Hunt, who darted past his winger to score. While Ponga didn’t manage the extras, the Knights had decisively reclaimed the momentum, with Ponga himself putting down the last try three minutes later following an error from Hiku.

The Knights had started quickly and accelerated late, bookending the game with exactly the dynamism and rhythm that they’ll need when they play the Bulldogs at Suncorp next week during Magic Round. Meanwhile, this was a hard home loss for the Warriors, especially given some of the momentum and field position that they managed to accrue, so they’ll be keen to put this game behind them when they “host” the Dragons at Suncorp next Saturday evening, immediately after the Bulldogs-Knights clash.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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