ROUND 1: Sydney Roosters v. Newcastle Knights (Sydney Cricket Ground, 12/3/22, 6-20)

When the Roosters and Knights rocked up for the last starting game at SCG before the construction of New Allianz, nobody could have predicted how close this would come to a genuinely historical fixture. No doubt, it was a big match for both teams, with Kalyn Ponga in fine form after only fifteen games in 2021, and Luke Keary making his first appearance on the park since March last year, meaning that this was also the first time that he and Sam Walker had appeared together in the halves in first-grade football.

While Newcastle had won their last four Round 1 matches, they’d only nabbed two of their last sixteen clashes with the Chooks, hadn’t beaten them outside Newcastle since Gosford in 2010, and hadn’t beaten them in Sydney since 2009. In their previous SCG games, the Roosters stood 90-22, and yet by the time that Jake Clifford scored a breakaway try in the second stanza, the Tricolours had only seven tackles in the opposition half, none in the twenty, no offloads to their name, no linebreaks and virtually no position since the sheds.

By the end of the game, they still wouldn’t have a linebreak, while none of their forwards would exceed the 100 metre mark, in sharp contrast to stellar nights from Mitch Barnett, Tyson Frizell and Dave Klemmer. Most dramatically, however, the Roosters glimpsed their first tryless Round 1 game since 1934, and their first tryless loss to the Knights in thirty years, until they got lucky with a Manu bounce at the 77th minute. Even their sole penalty kick, right on the siren, was a compromise, since they simply didn’t have time to tap and go at this point.

Keary was a bit rusty for his first touch, flicking the kickoff backwards, and then regathering it, and by the time he’d done so, Lindsay Collins only had room to make half a metre back in field, before Joey Manu, back for the first time since the face knock from Latrell Mitchell in Round 24, muscled his way to the ten. Victor Radley brought it over the twenty, and Keary took his first kick from the thirty, in a neat foreshadowing of the grind that the Chooks would face tonight, as Kalyn Ponga collected his first ball without any difficulty.

A big run from Dave Klemmer brought the Knights into Roosters territory, and Adam Clune built on it with fifteen post-contacts, getting Jake Clifford in position for a kick just outside the twenty. This was the first great attacking opportunity of the afternoon, but Newcastle wouldn’t have much luck booting it down this left edge, at least during the first quarter. Clifford went too shallow here, and without much of a chase to apply the pressure, Paul Momirovski took it easily, and the Roosters were rolling once again.

Clifford made up for it by scooping up a dropped ball from Manu to get his men zero tackles from the ten, before Klemmer, hungry for metres, brought the footy right to the chalk on play one. From there, Jake tried to sweep out to the right, but was trapped, so Jacob Saifiti took a steadier up the middle, laying a platform for his five-eighth to complete the right side play with a cut-out to Dane Gagai, who was cleaned up pretty clinically by Billy Smith, back in the starting side after a nightmare injury run over the course of 2021.

In response, the Knights shifted back to the left edge, where Clune came up with an equally average kick to Clifford’s first effort, rushing it off the side of his boot to gift the Chooks an easy changeover. Big runs from Collins up the middle and Momirovski on the right now put the Tricolours into Newcastle territory for the first time, while Klemmer was more contained on the following set, as was Tyson Frizell, forcing Clune to slot his next one from the forty. He didn’t do much better either, as Manu scooped it up and made ten on the return.

Smith now stepped into the spotlight again, compounding his tough defence on Gagai by coming in from his edge to win an offside from Kurt Mann. Like Clifford before him, Ponga reversed the rhythm by pulling up a loose carry, this time a very late offload on the ground for Radley, while Fletcher Baker was pinged a beat later for a slow peel. For the first time, the Knights had a full set down Sydney’s end of the park, so it was agonising when Ponga tried to redress the kicking issues on the left edge, and came up with another poor option.

For the briefest moment the chip looked good off the boot, but Kalyn didn’t dig deep enough into the line, meaning the footy didn’t sit up long enough for Enari Tuala to take it over. James Tedesco now glimpsed some space up the right on tackle four, but was halted by Lachlan Fitzgibbon, producing some brief confusion that led to Sam Walker taking on second option kicking duties. He hoisted it well to the left corner, and yet Dom Young hit back with the classiest take of the night so far, especially with Daniel Tupou up in his face.

Despite a decent dummy half run from Chris Randall, Clifford was behind the forty for the next kick, while Manu was confident enough with the collect to flick a wide one across to Teddy on play one. This flamboyance galavnised the Chooks into their most spectacular sequence so far, as Tupou got away from Gagai and Mann, broke through the line, and sent it out to Keary, who made up for his earlier rustiness with a beautiful parabola ball in the face of an impending Clune tackle. Jump as he might, Clifford couldn’t intercept it either.

Instead, Teddy, the man who had started the set, leaped up to collect the Steeden in both hands, tucked it under his right arm, and showed Young who was boss, by breaking through a last-ditch ankle tap to slam the footy down. It would have been such a poetic way for the Roosters to start the season, and such a stellar tribute to their halfback, but the call came down that Connor Watson had obstructed Klemmer, even though they looked to be running different lines – a dramatic outcome for the ex-Knight in his first game against Newcastle.

The Tricolours could still coast (to some extent) on the flow of Tedesco’s leadership here, so the Knights had to capitalise fast on the biggest letoff of the game. Big Klem was raring to make the most of it, offloading on the first tackle, and so building space for Fitzgibbon to barge up the left, before stamping his ownership on the middle on the second play as well. In a condensed version of their good fortune on the Chooks’ last charge, Clune bobbled the footy, regathered it, and then got his men a restart when Momirovski was called offside.

Sitili Tupouniua only just held up Mann a metre out from the crossbars, before Clifford took a forward-like charge into Momirovski on the right, paving the way to for Frizell to came down just shy of the chalk further out on the wing. Newcastle now parlayed all that momentum back to the other wing, where the Chooks delivered their most scrambling defence so far. It all came down to a Ponga chip back to the right that ricocheted out of a sea of Newcastle and Sydney jerseys for Tupou to reprise the brilliance of his break by taking it on the bounce.

Teddy was clearly restless now, turning around a couple of times on the second tackle, as if taking a 360-degree scope of the park, before the halves built some space up the right, and Baker added some more grunt to an impressive opening stint. In a flashback (of sorts) to the start of the game, Keary hoisted it high, and Ponga took it on the full, but now had to lie down on his back to collect it, giving the chasers time to swamp him, and so keeping the Knights well within their own end, despite a tackle-busting charge from Gagai on the third.

In the end, Clifford booted it right on halfway, before Teddy took it on the full, stared Gagai straight in the eyes and shifted it out to Tupou at the last minute. This didn’t get Sydney any more metres, but it had the same quality as Manu’s earlier wide ball to his captain – it was a flex play, an incitement to elasticise. Sure enough, Tedesco built on it four plays later, burrowing deep into the line to make his way into Newcastle territory, and setting up Keary for another pinpoint kick to Ponga, who ferried it back to the twenty this time around.

Still, the Knights were waning in the territory contest, as Walker ensured that Gagai didn’t bust through any more tackles, Collins led a three-man pack to hold up Frizell, and Jared Waerea-Hargeaves got ready on the side of the park. Clifford was only just outside the forty by the time he took the kick, but it was an absolute beauty, making up for all Newcastle’s frustrations up the left edge with the silkiest long-ranger of Round 1 so far – the kind of boot that can immediately shift the momentum and rhythm of an entire game.

So mercurial was the bounce, and so unpredictable the wind gathering above the SCG, that it defied Teddy three or four times, creating space for Clifford to slam him to ground, as Gagai scooped up the footy, curved behind the posts and planted it down to celebrate his return to Newcastle. There was some chance in it, since this didn’t look like the kick Jake was originally going for, but the young five-eighth made his own luck with the chase, bringing the Knights to 6-0 as he booted an easy two straight through the posts and deep into the SCG stands.

Between the thwarted Teddy try and the suddenness of these six points, the visitors were really rolling now, sitting at 11/11 to the Chooks’ 6/10. No surprise, then, that Ponga went for an elite play on the restart, by barging into the line and reaching out his arm for a mercurial pass that defied Fitzgibbon, who roared in frustration as the first scrum of the night ensued. Baker set things up with a solid run, Keary popped a no-looker out to Angus Crichton on the right, but followed with a loose ball to the left that Smith only just cleaned up in time.

Again, Tupou was the man to restore the Roosters’ belief, leaping up in the corner, volleyball-style, to bat Walker’s kick back into the field of play. The tackle count restarted, Walker executed a deft harbour bridge offload, Teddy got Baker in place for a steadier on the right, before Manu tucked it under his arm and drilled his way into the line, clearing up space for Radley and Keary to drift out to the left. Despite the power of the Clifford-Gagai combo, or perhaps because of it, the Chooks had arrived at their first real consolidation point now.

Put that down, in part, to the prodigious ability of Smith to save messy plays – most dramatically when Walker lost the footy forward. Reining it in with his fingertips, he almost used the momentum to pull himself over the line with Ponga and Frizell on his back. It was the critical play in this entire set, giving the Chooks time to apply the biggest pressure from either side so far with the first dropout of the night, which Clifford skidded thirty metres over the bone-dry SCG turf for Manu to scoop up and slam back into the Knights defence.

Walker ran it into the line soon after, and flicked it out to Smith, as Klemmer and Gagai led a pack to make sure the young backliner didn’t come up with another clutch play. He lost the footy in the process, as did Mitch Barnett a few tackles later, as he was playing his first ball off the interchange bench, giving the Chooks a chance to continue the momentum of the botched dropout into the subsequent scrum. Things still weren’t quite gelling, however, as Teddy dove on a loose ball on the first, and was downed by Best before he could offload.

JWH tried to steady the ship with a tough run up the middle, and reached his right hand away from the hit-up, but he couldn’t nab the second phase either. Crichton suffered the same fate on the right, meaning it all came down to a Walker chip that Clifford leaped off the ground to take on the bounce, before ricocheting off a hard Radley tackle that did more damage to the Inflictor (or Inflicted). The game was becoming more volatile and unpredictable, as Radley was inexplicably put on report, despite having appeared to make clean and legal contact.

With Collins pinged for a slow peel a beat later, the residual momentum of the Roosters’ dropout, and the field position that had preceded it, was officially over. Klem, Barnett and Frizell now consolidated with big runs, and Ponga elasticised on the fourth with a cut-out for Tuala that Best played at, and knocked forward, making this the second strong play from the Newcastle fullback that had failed to find adequate support. Still, Sydney didn’t do much with the changeover, as the Knights stormed in for some of their toughest defence so far.

Tupou tried to muscle his right hand out of the first pack, but the Roosters’ offload drought continued, while Manu was swamped by a three-man pack, and big Jared was driven two metres back by Fitzgibbon. As if the set wasn’t languishing enough, play paused midway through for Radley to come off the park, after two minutes of football, despite plenty of moments when he could have left without disrupting the flow of play. For a moment, it looked like this was the pivot Sio Siua Taukeiaho needed to restore the rhythm from the front pack.

Not only was his charge into Mann one of the best contacts so far, but he won six again as Nat Butcher came off the bench, so it was agonising when Fitzgibbon downed Watson with an ankle tap, and forced a knock-on in the process, before breaking through the line on the next set, and carving his way up the left edge, where Teddy surged over from the other side of the park to give him a taste of his own medicine with a heroic ankle tap of his own. Clifford built on the energy though, dragging Watson fourteen metres, and almost over the chalk.

It was one of the best runs of the young five-eighth’s career, and yet the set came apart on the right edge, where Mann juggled it for a second, and Teddy showed he could field Newcastle on both wings, coming up with the kick and launching himself back into the field of play. He was on the hunt now, surging into the line for more Taukeiaho metres, before Keary kicked early, from the forty, and got his best strike of the afternoon, sending it all the way over Ponga’s head and five metres in goal, where it sat up as Young circled round it. 

Teddy had delivered the best tackle of the game, Keary had banged through his best kick of the game, and the Knights were working it off their own line, so the Chooks needed to contain them on this next set to consolidate their newfound momentum. What they didn’t need was a crowding penalty from Butcher, as the Knights got back into first gear immediately, and Frizell came up with the offload that both forward packs had been looking for – a sharp second phase effort out to Clune that cleared up space for Clifford to drive it up the left.

Nevertheless, the second half of this set started to slow down, after Clune sent it overlong to Tuala, who only just cleaned the pass up on the sideline. Likewise, Clifford booted it too hard back to the other wing, as the Tricolours got a seven tackle set, and then another bump in position when Frizell swung a lazy arm into Manu’s head. It had to be a consolidation point for the Knights, then, when JWH coughed it up on tackle one, thanks to a superb effort from Mann, who celebrated his 150th milestone with the premium low shot of the afternoon.

Everything came together for Newcastle now, as Ponga made a half-break on the left, where he channelled the spirit of Fitzgibbon’s earlier run until he too was brought down by a Teddy ankle tap, albeit not without offloading through Radley and Tupouniua for Best to come up with a beautiful one-hander, and arguably the individual play of the match. Planting the right palm fend straight in Momirovski’s face, Bradman flicked an underarm no-looker out to Tuala. It was pure footy, elegant and simple, and was always going to produce the next four points.

The 2022 Knights have apparently developed a tradition of fining the last player to the huddle, so they were tight as Clifford took the tee all the way back to the thirty metre line, although the eccentric angle didn’t work for him, as he shanked the forty-six metre boot away to the left. Even so, the Knights had ten unanswered points with six on the clock, and Ponga was in full leadership mode now, barking out instructions early on the restart, and effecting a shift to the right, on the third, that ended with a pair of deft second phase efforts.

Young was first, breaking through the line and offloading back in field, where a spectacular one-hander from Leo Thompson made it third phase play, and completed the shift to Fitzgibbon out on the other wing. This was dynamic footy from the Knights, and from Kalyn in particular, who capped it off with a mercurial grubber to the right, where the Giraffe had no choice but to take it dead with Gagai on his back. Thompson began the dropout with a monster charge, Barnett made good metres, and Newcastle leaned deeper into their flow.

Not only did Fitzgibbon come close to reprising his left edge break on the third, only succumbing at the last second to a desperate JWH ankle tap, but Ponga delivered a beautiful wide ball, as precise as it was precarious, to Clifford, thereby setting up Gagai to almost smash over on the wing. A third unanswered try felt tantalisingly close, so it was huge when Manu took Clifford’s next kick on the full, and weathered a high shot from Fitzgibbon to get his men a much-needed bump up the park, as news came down that Radley had a Category 1.

A contentious error from Barnett meant the Knights didn’t get another last-tackle option, and after all the pressure of the last few minutes, it was a minor victory that the Chooks got points on the board on the brink of half time, thanks to a Walker penalty kick off some Best crowding. No doubt Newcastle were dominant, but the improbability and audacity of the hosts capping off the first stanza made it feel like they had some fight left in them, and could still come back in the second forty if they managed to build some position, possession and momentum.

Fitzgibbon hadn’t shown any sign of injury before the break, but he was hobbling on his right leg when he returned to the park. Amazingly, he’d stay on for the rest of the game, although it didn’t look likely as he struggled to keep up with the line as Teddy booted the kickoff, Thompson set his sights on JWH for the first charge, and Barnett offloaded on the ground on play two. Newcastle were now 8-0 with the second phase, while the Chooks couldn’t do much with their first set, paving the way for a very difficult third quarter position-wise.

On the other side of the Steeden, Young was settling into his best game in first grade, taking the next kick well before Clune popped another offload out the back to Best, and Ponga added some trademark footwork up the left edge. Mann dummied a couple of times to hit halfway, shifting it out for Gagai, who brought all this escalating energy together with a superb break along the right sideline, where he trampled over Smith and planted a massive fend on Tupou only to misfire the pass back infield, and so gift Sydney City a much-needed letoff.  

JWH anchored the middle of the next set with a tough run up the centre, and Smith tried to return the favour on Gagai, but didn’t stand a shot of breaking through once Clifford surged in as second defender. By contrast, Ponga was determined not to let the residual rhythm of that stellar last set slip away from his men, keeping his eyes square on the high ball as he leaped half a metre off the ground, putting his whole body on the line in the midst of a sturdy Chooks chase, and in the face of a particularly committed effort from his opposing skipper.

It was just the boost Newcastle needed with Mann ordered off the park for an HIA, and galvanised them into another strong defensive stint, as Teddy tried once, twice and then three times to bend the line, dodging and weaving more restlessly with each charge until Best brought him to ground on the right edge. Ponga had an easier take for the next kick, standing his ground to take Keary’s end-over-ender before shifting it out for Tuala to break the twenty, but the game was still at risk of sinking into the doldrums if the Knights didn’t build now.

With Gagai halted mid-run, and Clifford only arriving at halfway by the time he put boot to ball, the impact of Dane’s right edge break had completely waned, and Manu capitalised with a confident take under the high ball, which he flicked across for Tedesco to send on to Tupou, all on tackle one. Stepping into the playmaker role, Manu distributed to the other edge on play two, where Walker responded with a harbour bridge pass out to Crichton, who tried to consolidate on the right sideline much as Gagai had done a couple of minutes before.

Big Angus was even less successful, however, since Best stepped into the spotlight once again, catching the Sydney second-rower right when he was pivoting back infield, and bundling him into touch like he was the smallest man on the park. All of a sudden Newcastle had the rhythm again, and Gagai marked it with another big play, slicing past Walker to commence a sustained period of side-to-side sweeps, each of them more precarious than the last – from Best failing to hear Tuala barking for it on his outside, to Tuala only just collecting a Clune wide ball.

Finally, Walker saved the day by taking Clune’s kick on the bounce and plunging himself a metre back over the goal line, but the Roosters’ big men were still looking exhausted, and really struggling to work it out of their own end. Keary was only just at the thirty when he booted it, while Gagai was continuing to come into his own, absorbing a three-man pack on the right to clear space for Ponga to do what he does best – dodge, weave and dance into the defence, winning a penalty in the process for Keary, who compensated with a slow peel.

With Best delivering two stunning runs – the first halted by Momirovski, the second requiring a Momirovski-Keary combo – and the Knights continuing to sweep from side to side, it was starting to feel like the key goal was simply to exhaust Sydney, who got some precious breathing-space when Thompson coughed it up out on the right, just when the visitors seemed poised to consolidate. This was the Chooks’ chance to change the flow, at least during the third quarter, and so Taukeiaho roused them with his gutsiest run in a good few sets.

JWH followed his lead by twisting and spinning into a three-man pack led by Fitzgibbon, who was somehow still on the park, and even glimpsed the Roosters’ first offload of the night, although he eventually had to rein in his arm. It was agonising, then, when Keary knocked on late in the count – and exhilarating, for the home crowd, when the Tricolours sent it upstairs to show that their five-eighth had managed to flick it back again before it made contact with Best, since another changeover would have spelled doom for the Chooks at this point.

With Taukeiaho and big Jared waking up again, it was a perfect time for Collins to return from the bench, especially since Smith was off for an HIA at the trainer’s instruction, with Tupouniua taking up the reins at left centre. Walker hoisted the next one high, and Ponga came up with the most spectacular take of the game, a falling catch that found Hutchison offside downtown. Between Keary’s cough-up, the ease of Ponga’s take, and this penalty on play one, it felt almost inevitable that the Knights were going to nab their second try now.

In fact, so strong was their flow that they could weather Manu bumping back Clune’s next kick for a Best knock-on, especially since Mann had returned to the park and was ready to rumble. They just needed one more Sydney error – and got it when Saifiti jammed in on JWH midway through the following set, forcing the enforcer to rush the pass to Taukeiaho, who let it slip out of his fingers for Clifford, who scooped it up and ran sixty metres for a breakaway try, gathering all the building Newcastle momentum into this one splendid charge.

Tedesco came closest to catching him, but even he decelerated twenty metres out, when it became clear his quarry was going to slide beneath the crossbar untouched. Clifford was always going to add the extras from this angle, and so the Chooks were now over two converted tries behind, without a four-pointer to their name, on the cusp of the final quarter. They were staring down their lowest opening round score since 1934, and if they didn’t score the next try, they had likely lost the game, so staunch was Newcastle’s commitment now.

As fate would have it, they got their chance at the end of the following set, which took them deep into Knights territory for the first time since the break, and provided them with their first tackle in the opposition twenty. Walker chipped and chased, Crossland held him back, and just like that the Roosters were thirteen against twelve. They opted to tap and go, as the big men put on a show, with Collins barging towards the right post, Baker following further infield, and Crichton almost finding a hole further out off a deft short ball from Keary.

This was easily the Chooks’ most energetic set since the break, forcing the Knights to pile on to halt Manu’s passage on the wing, before Mann and Frizell combined to shut down a second Collins charge. Finally, Young capped off some of the grittiest defence of the day by lifting Tupou clean off his feet and smashing him into touch –  a David-on-Goliath effort of sorts from Young, the man with only seven NRL games to his name, to Tupou, the veteran playing in his 202th appearance. If the Roosters couldn’t score here, you had to wonder, when would they?

Manu glimpsed a space in the line on the next set, but was promptly swallowed by Clune and Fitzgibbon, and while Taukeiaho glimpsed a break up the left, he found the gap closing up for him as well. The last ditch was a Keary cut-out to Tupouniua, who dribbled it off his boot down the sideline, but this just turned into the platform for Ponga’s most spectacular take of the night, as he got himself in the perfect position to launch the footy a metre back in field. With a Collins spear tackle on Tuala, the Knights didn’t even have to work it out of their own end.

We were now halfway through Crossland’s stint in the bin and Newcastle hadn’t conceded any more points. If anything, they were coalescing again, as Frizell delivered a good charge on the following set, Frizell made a couple of post-contacts, and Ponga brought it all together with a quizzical run up the right edge. Tupouniua got the last laugh this time though, meaning it all came down to a Clifford crossfield kick that Momirovski leaped up to take in both hands as a determined pack of blue and red defenders bundled him back over the chalk.

Teddy struck it hard for a seventy-metre dropout, Klemmer was almost back to the forty on tackle two, and the big boppers did their job, setting up Best for a forward-like charge of his own, before Tupou followed Momirovski with an aerial take, and withstood a more modest pack effort to remain in the field of play. This was a small victory for the Chooks, and Keary built on it with a good dummy midway through the subsequent set. It wasn’t enough to put him through the line but it did get his men a precious penalty for some illegal Best contact.

With Baker and Watson back off the bench, and Crossland’s time in the bin dwindling, this had to be the comeback moment for the Roosters, especially since Butcher was five metres out by play three. For a team that had struggled to make a tackle in the opposition twenty, this position couldn’t be scoffed at – and Baker was up to the task, marking his return to the field by twisting and spinning through a Klemmer tackle for some superb second phase to Keary, which Walker parlayed into an eyes-off chip off the side of boot out to the right corner.

For the second time in almost as many minutes, Ponga put his body on the line as he tried to heave the Steeden back over the chalk, and while he withstood the wave of Tricoloured defenders for a second or two, he eventually succumbed, in one of the gutsiest one-man efforts of the game. It was deflating, then, when Clifford booted the dropout kick out on the full, and then doubly rousing when Young made the best single defensive play of the night, wrapping himself around Tupou’s left boot to prevent him scoring off a Tedesco cut-out.

This felt like the end of the line for Sydney City, as Crossland returned from the bin, and promptly fed the footy out to Tuala for the opening charge of the next set. The Chooks had dominated possession with an extra man on the park, and spent much of it in Newcastle’s end, so this was a rousing tribute to the red and blue defence. Still, the hosts got one more chance when Best coughed up what should have been a linebreak assist from Fitzgibbon. They had seven tackles to play with now, and had to come away with something to show for them.

You could feel some of the residual Rabbitohs-Roosters rivalry when Gagai slammed into Teddy for a conversation-stopper on the left edge, sending a ripple over the attack that led to Taukeiaho putting it down for a second time on the very next play. Moments later, Clune got the break Fitzgibbon had been looking for with Best, then fended off Momirovski, and pivoted back in field to avoid Teddy, who got him on the second shot. The damage was done now, however, as Ponga stepped up with the one-man attack he’d been yearning for all day.

It came in the form of the widest pass of the night, about half the width of the field, that he lobbed out to the right, thereby commencing a sublime sweep that moved through Clune, then Frizell, who did well to get around Butcher, and finally to Gagai, who bookended this superb last period by popping the short assist out to Young. As spectacular as his shutdown of Tupou had been, this was even better, a study in balletic brutality as he danced along the sideline and soared through the air to land Steeden-first in Newcastle triumph.

The Knights weren’t letting up any on the huddles, and this last gathering was the most inspiring yet – good enough to eclipse Clifford missing his last kick of the afternoon. There was no chance of the Chooks winning now – they just had to make sure that Newcastle didn’t hold them tryless for the first time in thirty years, and hand them their first tryless opening round since the 1930s. They got their chance a set later and without a linebreak to their name all night, they didn’t rely on a break to get it either.

Instead they got lucky with a clutchy Manu kick to the right corner. Tuala leaped for it, but couldn’t quite tap it back, while the bounce went against Best too, sitting up perfectly for Momirovski, who spun away from the defence and got it down. Walker sent it across the face of the posts, the Roosters remained at six, and had prevented this becoming a historic match in the worst possible way, although the Knights still had the competition points tied up. Yet for the briefest of moments, it looked like the Tricolours might nab one more try here.

It started with one of their most elastic sequences of the night, as Teddy lobbed a harbour bridge ball out to Tupouniua, who popped it back to Tupou, who in turn ricocheted it back infield, where it moved through Walker and Hutchison to Collins. As if unwilling to let go of this last burst of rhythm, Collins challenged the changeover, and got the chocolates when it turned out that Thompson had indeed got an errant touch as it moved between Walker and Hutchison – only for Collins himself to put down the footy a couple of tackles into the restart.

With barely a minute on the clock, the spectacle of the challenger turned error-maker was too much for the Roosters, who came in for a fracas with the Knights, but in an impotent display of aggro, since Newcastle had come up with one of the best starts for any team to the 2022 season. They may not have made history as decisively as the first 77 minutes of the game might have suggested, but they’ve still got plenty pride to take them into Round 2’s fixture against the Tigs, while the Chooks will want to come back very big against Manly.

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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