The Newcastle Knights have bounced back to the winners' table after a second-half thriller at Hunter Stadium. The young-gun Knights rose to the challenge of overcoming the reigning premiers with a 16-12 victory. The 15,468 strong crowd were left on the edge of their seats in the dying minutes of the game as the both teams played hot potato with the football.
An early penalty to the Sydney Roosters lead to a soft try in the opening minute - scored by none other than the Roosters' captain and fullback Anthony Minichiello. The Knights' defenders ran and abruptly stopped as though they were hit by a brick wall of air. Minichiello capitalised and flew right past them, getting the ball over the line. James Maloney produced the goods with the conversion and the Roosters led 6-0 at the 3rd minute.
The rest of the first half proved to be a tug of war between the rookies and the veterans. At the 15 minute mark, Maloney and Knights debutant Sione Mata'utia foot-raced to collect the footy like primary school students who wanted to be at the front of the canteen line. Maloney was looking to score a try and Mata'utia aiming to save conceding one. A scramble with the footy lead to a 'no try' decision by the video referee. You can breathe now, Newcastle fans.
'Everything was coming up Milhouse' for the Roosters at the 22nd minute, with the Knights giving away a penalty five metres out from their own line. Unfortunately for the Bondi boys, the contest for the possible try led to another 'no try' decision by the video ref.
Sloppy plays and mistakes from both sides also made the battle more difficult in soggy and windy conditions, with Roosters' superstar winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck dropping a bomb at the 29th minute. A couple of minutes later, a mistake from the Knights also lead to a drop-ball at the 35m line, however, this one was costly as Maloney again came up with ball and crossed over, though again he was ruled held up.
A solid defensive effort by the Knights meant that they went into halftime down by just six points. The Sydney Roosters were aiming to maintain their new-found form, but the Knights' goal was to bounce back from their loss last week - the second half was going to be an important 40 minutes of football.
Four minutes after coming back from the sheds, the Knights managed to dive over the line. However, in desperate attempts to keep the ball alive on the last play, the final pass turned out to be forward from Robbie Rochow to Jake Mamo, deflating the Knights' confidence.
It was back and forth between both teams, before Knights young-gun Tyrone Roberts crossed the line and got a four-pointer at the 60th minute. This was overshadowed by the simultaneous sin-binning of Roosters player Jared Warea-Hargreaves who was disrespecting the referee. Centre Dane Gagai converted the try so it was neck and neck with 20 minutes to go.
A boost of confidence meant another Knights try just four minutes later as a result of a magical offload by Willie Mason. Tyrone Roberts went in for a double, although Gagai could not repeat the same magic with his kick for the conversion. The score was 10-6 with a thrilling 15 minutes to go.
The Roosters bounced back at the 72nd minute, with Frank Paul-Nu'uausala crossing over. Maloney kicked for cash right over the black dot and it looked like it was game over for the Knights with the Roosters leading 12-10.
One of the things we've learnt as rugby league fans is not to assume it is game over when the clock hits the 75th minute. Game over is at the 80th minute (extra time notwithstanding). As I was starting to breathe and look at what was left of my nails, young Knights' halfback Tyrone Roberts created an opportunity for Joseph Leilua with a crafty grubber in the 79th, just as the crowd was falling off their seats in anticipation. The video referee was asked to check the onside and grounding... then the green lights flashed up, causing a simultaneous 'YYEEAAAHH!' from the crowd - well, the Knights supporters, anyway. The halfback converted the try, adding a cherry on top of the sweet miracle try.
Desperate attempts from the Roosters in the final minute mimicked a game of hot potato, but their heroics did not pay off as the final siren sounded. The bottom-of-the-ladder Knights managed to steal the victory from the reigning premiers in an intense thriller at Newcastle. A miraculous 16-12 victory to the rookies gave them a well-earned confidence boost. You know what they say, once you've hit rock-bottom, the only way you can go is up.
Next week the Knights will head to tropical north Queensland, where they face the Rabbitohs in Cairns. For the Roosters it's time to head home to Allianz and don their Captain America strip in Round 21 where they'll face the "Iron Man" St. George Illawara Dragons as part of a Marvel Heroes promotion by manufacturer ISC Sports.