Newcastle’s resurgence went to another level on Friday night when the Knights over-powered and out-played Sydney Roosters 38-12 in a spectacular, sometimes spiteful game at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Roared on by a raucous crowd of 25,929, the Knights scored five tries to two and were too physical and too fast for the defending premiers, serving notice they are legitimate finals contenders.
In registering their fifth straight win, the Knights ended a six-match losing streak against the Roosters stretching back to 2014, much to the delight of their delirious fans who cheered themselves hoarse.
Led by stars Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga, who both scored tries, Newcastle led 22-6 at half-time after a fast and furious first 40 minutes then went on with the job in the second half.
Match: Knights v Roosters
Round 11 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
A dazed Ponga was replaced in the 59th minute after a heavy tackle by Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves which sparked a scuffle involving players from both sides. There were similar brush fires throughout the game.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson rested halfback Cooper Cronk but was left without a senior playmaker after just eight minutes, when a concussed Luke Keary had to be helped from the field.
The likely NSW five-eighth, Keary was crunched in a Daniel Saifiti tackle, then Knights hooker Danny Levi hobbled off five minutes later after his left ankle bent awkwardly underneath him when tackled.
Keary leaves field after head-knock
Keary failed his HIA – his second heavy head knock in the space of five weeks after he was concussed in the Roosters’ 21-20 victory over Melbourne on April 19 – and he will be nursed through the early part of the Blues’ preparation for Origin I if, as expected, he is selected on Sunday night.
Apart from having repercussions for NSW, Keary’s injury left the Roosters without an established on-field general. That left former Knights half Brock Lamb, who replaced Keary, in charge of the Roosters in his first appearance for the club.
As Keary disappeared under Saifiti’s smothering tackle, he threw a desperate pass which Hymel Hunt picked off and returned 20 metres for a try under the posts. It was a try generated by Newcastle’s swarming, aggressive defensive effort.
Ponga converted from in front to give Newcastle an 8-0 lead, after he had landed a penalty goal in the fourth minute.
Another Ponga penalty goal stretched Newcastle’s lead to 10-0 in the 17th minute but the Roosters hit back eight minutes later after some smart thinking by James Tedesco.
Ponga provides for Pearce
The NSW and Australian fullback took a quick tap from a penalty, Newcastle’s defenders were slow to react, and Tedesco darted 15 metres to score.
Latrell Mitchell, who started at five-eighth, converted from a wide angle to cut the deficit to 10-6 but it was as close as the Roosters would get.
Ponga swerved and stepped between Lamb and Angus Crichton then past Tedesco to score in the 35th minute, then threw the final pass for Pearce to touch down under the posts 20 seconds before the half-time siren sounded.
It was the sixth straight game in which Ponga has scored a try and the fifth on the trot for Pearce, the former Roosters halfback who joined the Knights after the Roosters signed Cronk.
Pearce celebrated his try by kissing the Knights logo on his chest in front of fans on the Southern hill.
Any chance of a Newcastle letdown disappeared when another ex-Rooster, Connor Watson, burst out of dummy half three minutes into the second half and ran 40 metres to score next to the posts.
Ponga converted for a 28-6 lead and added another penalty in the 51st minute for 30-6, giving him an 18-point personal tally.
Back-rower Mitch Barnett took over the kicking duties when Ponga departed for his HIA and landed a penalty in the 69th minute for a 32-6 lead, then converted Edrick Lee’s try from the sideline two minutes later to push their lead to 38-6.
A consolation converted try by Roosters prop Siosiua Taukeiaho in the 74th minute was too little too late, and not even the sight of Knights pack leader David Klemmer to the sin bin for the final 17 seconds could dull the din from the Newcastle faithful.
Ponga slices through