The first game of Round 6 was the fiftieth meeting of Newcastle and Brisbane since they joined the competition in 1988. The Knights had only won fifteen of those fixtures, but they had a big boost tonight after Kalyn Ponga’s long-term commitment to Newcastle, along with his rousing speech about wanting to raise the trophy over Hunter Stadium. Issac Luke gave away the first penalty one minute into his Brisbane debut, but Newcastle didn’t do much with the field position after Tim Glasby put down a tricky pass from Mitchell Pearce. Tevita Pangai Junior then gave David Klemmer his biggest hit ever, but Newcastle weren’t too shaken as a whole, receiving the first set restart eight minutes in, and then another restart a tackle late, only for Jacob Saifiti to cough up the footy on play one. Three tackles later, Payne Haas was the next to turn the ball over, and the Knights responded with their most sweeping play so far, sending the footy across to the right before Klemmer straightened the attack with a hard run.
Pearce grubbered through the ruck on the last, forcing Jamayne Isaako to kick it into touch, getting his men the first dropout of the night. Isaako went long with the kick, but Saifiti busted straight through a tackle from Patrick Carrigan, travelling forty metres, and providing the speed and field position that Newcastle needed for their next try. The final play started with Klemmer making his fifteenth offload of the season to Andrew McCullough, who shifted it just as quickly to Pearce. The ex-Rooster responded with an inspired run, engaging and drawing in Brodie Croft before popping the footy across to Kurt Mann to score to the left of the posts. Hymel Hunt only just got back into the field of play on the restart, but the Knights made up the field position when Luke conceded his second consecutive offside penalty. The same thing happened at the end of the next set, when Darius Boyd only just brought the ball back for Brisbane, who then got their first penalty of the night when Daniel Saifiti was called offside.Embed from Getty Images
They made the most of this opportunity, replicating Newcastle’s fast finish on the left edge as Corey Oates stormed through to put down what initially seemed like his first try in twelve games. The on field ruling was try, but the replay raised serious questions about whether Oates had slightly bobbled the ball after Gehamat Shibasaki got beneath him – easily the best defensive effort from the Knights all game. In a surprise twist, though, the Bunker replay showed that Isaako had interfered with the defensive effort – a massive letoff for the Knights, who got rolling once again. Isaako proved safe under a towering bomb from Ponga at the end of the next set, but Ponga was just as safe beneath Croft’s next kick, and so the next big break came when Pearce coughed up the footy midway down the field. Apart from the disallowed try, Brisbane hadn’t made a tackle in the Knights’ twenty, so this was a big chance, especially when they got their next restart a few plays in. Pangai made a big run up the right, the Broncos swept left, Alex Glenn regathered a loose ball, and then Croft kicked back to the right on the last.
Herbie Farnworth caught the footy on the full, but passed it back inside to Edrick Lee, and the Knights got their next restart on the first tackle. Some deft footwork from Mann now opened up a linebreak for Ponga, who would have scored if it weren’t for a trysaver for Isaako, who was sent to the bin for a questionable professional foul. Jacob Saifiti and Glasby now took big hits in front of the posts, before Mann booted a near-horizontal kick across to the right corner on the third – more like a pass than a kick – for Hunt to score his first try in Newcastle colours. Ponga had his second conversion of the year from the right of the posts, and this time he made it, bringing the Knights to a twelve point lead with twelve Broncos on the park for the next nine minutes. Still, Newcastle wouldn’t score again with an extra man, despite a massive defensive effort on the next set, when they coordinated the biggest pack effort of the night to almost drag Pangai back over beneath the posts on the second play.Embed from Getty Images
Instead, both sides traded errors for a couple of sets, starting with Pearce, who was the next player to be called offside right on his opponent’s line. The next Brisbane set came to nothing when Pangai offloaded back to the Knights right in front of the posts, but the Broncos got another chance when a low tackle forced Bradman Best into a forward pass, giving them the scrum feed in the middle of the park. Joe Ofahengaue was the next man to lose the footy, but Xavier Coates steadied the ship with a superb one-man effort, and the intercept try of the year so far. Seeing McCullough shooting a wide pass across to Edrick Lee right on the Brisbane line, Coates leaped up, gathered the footy, and ran the full length of the park to put down one of the best long-range efforts in recent Brisbane history. Farnworth added the extras with no trouble, and the strength and speed of this try went a long way towards recuperating Brisbane’s lagging momentum, so it was paramount that Pearce add something before half-time – and he did, with a field goal in the final minute.
Newcastle got their next attacking opportunity with a set restart two minutes into the second stanza, and Ponga headed to the right edge, where Shibasaki bounced away from two tackles and very nearly got across, before Daniel Saifiti was held up by Ofahengaue and Luke to the left of the posts. Saifiti had all but conceded the tackle when he spun through it slowly at the last minute, more or less walking over the line even after Pangai and Croft had come in to help with the play. This was the worst Brisbane defence all season, costing them six more points after Ponga made it three from three with the kicks. Meanwhile, the Knights showed no signs of slowing down, enjoying a restart on the restart, a near-linebreak from Ponga, a pair of big runs up the middle from Herman Ese’ese and Daniel Saifiti, and then finally a scrum feed from the ten after Boyd knocked on right on the line. Pearce, Jacob Saifiti, Ese’ese, Daniel Saifiti and Mata’utia all targeted the left centre of the park, before Pearce made a poor pass to Lee that bounced over the sideline before his winger could scoop it up.Embed from Getty Images
This was a big letoff for the Broncos, and Glenn capitalised on it with a captain’s run, busting through a tackle on the second play and tempting Hunt into a strip that got them a piggy-back down the field. They got a restart when Lachlan Fitzgibbon knocked on a loose offload from Anthony Milford, and their first real accumulation of field position all night, but the Knights stayed strong, with Ponga collecting the footy easily after it ricocheted off the Newcastle line. Like the Broncos before them, the Knights got out of their own end pretty easily, when Thomas Flegler was pinged for not being square at marker, but Pearce now made his second consecutive misread on the last tackle, booting through an unchallenging grubber that Brisbane cleaned up without too much trouble. Both teams went set for set for a few minutes, as Pearce’s field goal seemed more and more prescient, until Croft found touch and set up a scrum.
Klemmer and Lee responded with rollicking runs on the first two plays, gaining significant post-contact metres, only for Mata’utia to lose the footy on the fourth tackle while charging up the middle of the park. Newcastle opted for a Captain’s Challenge, and the replay did indeed show that Glenn had stripped the Steeden from Mata’utia – a critical decision for the Knights, since they got their next two points at the end of the next sequence. In fact, it looked like they might score at the start of the next set, when Klemmer offloaded right on the ground for Pearce, who sent the footy across to Best for what would have been a certain try in the corner were it not for a bone-shattering tackle from Farnworth. In the end, Brisbane recovered the footy, but Pangai put it down just as quickly, making this the most sustained and dangerous period of Newcastle possession since the Knights had last scored. Klemmer was strong again on the next set, catching a tricky pass on the fingertips, before Newcastle got another penalty when Carrigan was sent to the bin for a late tackle on Pearce.Embed from Getty Images
The Knights now had their best accumulation of field position all night, and twelve Broncos on the park once again, yet decided to take the two here, letting the sin bin minutes wind down as Ponga booted the scoreline forward to 21-6. They wouldn’t score again while Carrigan was off the field, although the Broncos came close to their second try after a Milford offload set up a rapid swing to the right side of the park. Receiving the footy on the right edge, Farnworth made one of the best runs of his career so far, almost making his way over the line, and still getting out of a tackle from Lee to flick a pass back to Oates that was, unfortunately, forward out of the hands. Carrigan returned from the bin twelve minutes out from the end, ushering in the most error-free period of the match, as both kickers went bomb for bomb until the Knights got two six again calls three minutes out from the siren. On the first play after the second restart, the game ended as it should for Newcastle – with Pearce collecting the footy from McCullough and slamming over beneath the posts for their final try.
This was a great run on its own terms from Pearce, who dummied, got away from Lodge and made his way up the middle, taking Isaako, Farnworth and Haas by surprise. But this was also a fitting end to such a dominant game for Newcastle, who deserved the twenty-one point lead that ensued when Ponga booted the final kick of the night through the posts. After Ponga’s historic announcement earlier in the week, this was a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come over the next few years in Newcastle. There’s no doubt that the Knights are playing some of their best football in a decade, so they should feel pretty confident heading into their match against the Cowboys in Townsville next week. On the other side of the Steeden, the Broncos have now lost four games in a row, and once again have failed to score a point in the second half, so they’ll be looking to consolidate, revise and dig deep for when they take on Gold Coast for a Queensland derby at Suncorp on Saturday afternoon.