The Warriors did so well in Tamworth on Saturday that it might as well have been a home game at Mt Smart Stadium. With the local postcode emblazoned on their jerseys, they racked up a thirty point lead, and kept the Knights to a single converted try, in their best game of the season since their near-perfect outing against the Dragons before lockdown – a great shot back after losing 20-0 to Newcastle in their first match of the year, and a great way to thank Tamworth for taking them in and embracing them post-COVID.
David Klemmer made the first error three minutes in, ricocheting the footy to Mason Lino, and the Warriors headed right two plays later, where Peta Hiku drew in three defenders to hold him up on the wing. By the fourth tackle Jamayne Taunoa-Brown was crashing at the other side, but New Zealand wouldn’t capitalise just yet, as Mitch Barnett forced a mistake from Eliesa Katoa before they could get to their kick. Newcastle got the first restart a play later, off a ruck infringement from Karl Lawton, but a knock on from Starford To’a gave another shot at the line from close range.
Barnett now went from forcing an error to conceding an error, giving the Warriors their first restart late in the tackle count, as the Newcastle defensive line started to tire. Lawton almost broke through on the left, before Adam Pompey scored on the right, off a soaring cut-out pass from Kodi Nikorima and superb flick pass from Hiku, whose try assist here was even better than his try would have been if the Warriors’ last attacking sequence had come to fruition.Embed from Getty Images
Chanel Harris-Tevita added his first conversion of the afternoon, and the Knights came in hard with the defence on the restart, keeping the Warriors in their own thirty until an offload from Jazz Tevaga recouped some field position. By the time Lawton kicked he was over the halfway line, allowing New Zealand to trap the Knights in turn, although once again an offload – this time from Klemmer – proved the critical ingredient for avoiding an early kick.
Newcastle got another restart early in their next set, but it came to nothing when Kurt Mann sent the Steeden bouncing off Hymel Hunt’s chest, while Lachlan Fitzgibbon took out his team’s frustration with a high hit on Nikorima three tackles later. Harris-Tevita booted through the penalty kick to make it an eight point game, and the Knights piled on for their best defensive set when they recovered the footy. They then got two augmented sets – the first when Katoa stripped Hunt right on the line, and the second when Harris-Tevita’s kick sailed too far, giving them seven tackles to play with.
Mitchell Pearce now stepped up with his best bomb so far, an understated effort that found Gehamat Shibasaki in the right corner, where he caught it clean despite being a foot lower than George Jennings, shifting it to his right arm as he tumbled over Chanel no. 7 to slam it down. Kalyn Ponga added the extras from the sideline – the last points that Newcastle would produce all afternoon.Embed from Getty Images
They looked set to score again a few minutes later, thanks to a scintillating pair of runs – a linebreak from Fitzgibbon, and then a follow-up effort from Pearce, who came up a metre short of the line, and had the Steeden stripped from his grasp by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Yet all this momentum quickly evaporated after the ten metre scrum, when a sublime surge at the left corner by Ponga was followed by a lost ball from Mason Lino, and the first and last Captain’s Challenge from Newcastle as they unsuccessfully tried to contest it.
Ten minutes out from the break, Shibasaki was pinged for an escort on George Jennings, and RTS followed with a superb catch-and-pass to Pompey, but this time Ponga was waiting on the wing, and bumped the New Zealand no. 2 in touch before he could do any more damage. From here, both teams faltered a bit, struggling to complete convincingly, until they each came up with a pair of great runs on their final tackle – the Warriors when Jennings collected the kick and almost broke through the line, trampling over Pearce to play the ball forty-five metres later; the Knights when Enari Tuala found space down the short side with thirty seconds left on the clock.
Still, the scoreline remained at 8-6 – not a great sign for Newcastle, who should have been much further ahead given their position on the ladder. Even then, they probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Warriors would put down five unanswered tries in the final half hour, especially since New Zealand’s first shot at the line was called back five minutes into the second stanza.Embed from Getty Images
After a brief pause when Klemmer caught an arm in the eye, and a pair of restarts for each team, the critical penalty came with an illegal strip from Josh King, who had made a potential trysaver to hold up one of RTS’ best runs a minute earlier. A forward-heavy sequence now ensued, as Daniel Alvaro, Adam Blair and Taunoa-Brown made good metres up the middle, and Alvaro somersaulted over beneath the posts, using the rhythm of Ponga and King’s combined tackle to twist the Steeden towards the turf, but never quite making contact.
This was good closure for King, and a relieving moment for Newcastle generally – a good sequel to Pearce’s defensive acumen on the line a few sets before, when he reached out a toe to deftly tap the footy away on the chalk, before lunging his whole body onto it, showcasing both his delicacy and strength in a single superb play.
Nevertheless, the Warriors regathered pretty quickly, as RTS started their next big set with a frustrated run on the first tackle, made more metres on the second, surged at the left edge two plays after his men got a restart off a To’a error, and then broke through on the fourth to slam down New Zealand’s next try. This was classic Roger the Dodger – a master class of footwork as he shaped to pass left, pivoted off the left boot to send Pearce reeling, gathered the Steeden into his chest to plough through Ponga, and then repeated Alvaro’s somersault for good measure.Embed from Getty Images
Harris-Tevita sent the footy off the right post to recover the eight point lead, and the Warriors spent the next ten minutes consolidating, moving fluidly through a Pompey linebreak and three successive dropouts before Pompey and Hiku linked up once more on the right edge. Again, Nikorima started the play with a cut-out pass, and again Hiku provided the assist, but the pass was even more spectacular this time – the best of the game – as the big no. 4 wrestled his way through a big tackle and flicked the footy so expertly that it traced as perfect a parabola as if it had been a cut-out pass with no pressure in sight.
Ponga held up Pompey last time he was this close, but he couldn’t stop him – just – ground the footy this time. Harris-Tevita missed the kick, but the Warriors were still two converted tries ahead after their penalty goal in the first stanza, while the Knights needed a short, sharp, one-man effort to get themselves back in the game.
They got it quickly, when To’a made the best linebreak of the game, collecting a poor pass midway down the park and accelerating so rapidly that he looked set to outpace RTS, forcing Harris-Tevita into the best chase of the game to bump him over in time for Jennings to storm in and clean him up. As with Fitzgibbon and Pearce’s pair of runs in the first stanza, however, all this energy evaporated immediately, as an error from Barnett and a hand in the ruck from Chris Randall got the Warriors rolling again.Embed from Getty Images
The Warriors were now scoring like clockwork every ten minutes, putting down their next points at the seventy metre mark. Again, the try was preceded by a linebreak, this time from Harris-Tevita, but it now only took them one dropout to consolidate, as they executed their simplest try so far off a clinical left sweep. All it took was a pair of deft cut-out passes – from RTS and Hayze Perham – for Jennings to cross over untouched in the corner, before an unforced mistake from Mason Lino out of dummy half put the Knights triple the Warriors on the error tally, 9-3, and set up New Zealand for their fifth try.
It happened on the very next play, when RTS crashed over for a double, barging through tackles from Pearce, Barnett and Ponga, in a compressed and intensified repeat of his previous try. A wave of Klemmer errors now followed a dangerous tackle from Herman Ese’ese – crowding (after a successful Captain’s Challenge from New Zealand), a ruck infringement, and then a dangerous tackle that saw him sent to the bin and put on report with three minutes left on the clock.
New Zealand were now doing it more than every ten minutes, as Tevaga capitalised just as quickly as RTS a few minutes before, receiving the footy from Lawton on the next play and slamming through Pearce for the six and final New Zealand try right beside the left post. With Harris-Tevita booting through the last conversion, the Warriors were sextuple a top eight team, and had shot into ninth position – a courageous effort that stands them in good stead against Parra next week. On the other side of the Steeden, the Knights will be raring to come back from their biggest loss of the 2020 season – and their most shocking loss – when they host Cronulla in the Hunter next Friday night.