#ORIGIN | Rick's weekly column looks at whether the dead rubber's worth the hassle - and if it is, w...
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The Newcastle Knights remain the undefeated leaders of the VB Premier League competition after defeating Newtown 36-22 at Energy Australia Stadium on Saturday. The Knights had led 16-4 midway through the first half but the Jets fought back to draw level at 16-all just prior to half-time. Newtown had the benefit of the stiff breeze for the second half but it was the Knights who stepped up the tempo and finished the stronger in front of their customarily-vociferous home crowd.
The Knights had drawn first blood through a runaway try by their hooker in the 8th minute of play. The Jets responded through halfback Jamie Soward whose pinpoint cut-out pass to winger Aaron Lai was well directed back into hard-running centre Vince Mellars, who crashed over to score wide out in the 16th minute. The Knights were quick to pounce on any Newtown errors and penalties, racking up two more tries in a three-minute period in the middle of the first half. Two valuable ground-gaining runs by Jets hooker Heath L'Estrange resulted in a second try to Mellars which Soward duly converted from the sideline. The classy halfback was also involved in Newtown's third try when his spiralling punt kick bounced back into the arms of Jets prop Dale Newton who ploughed over under the posts with three defenders clinging to him. Soward's effortless conversion saw the teams go into the half-time break at 16-all.
A combination of Newcastle's strong defence and ability to seize upon Newtown's errors and penalties swung the balance of the game to the Knights in the third quarter. Newcastle added two tries in this critical period but the Jets were right back in the game with 15 minutes remaining after winger Anthony Watts soared high to catch Soward's perfectly-placed corner kick and scored in the northern left-hand corner. Soward kicked a screamer of a conversion from right on the left-side touchline for Newtown to trail 26-22. The Knights, willed on by the huge home crowd and their impressive hard-case forward pack wrapped up the match with further tries in the 74th and 78th minutes, leaving the Jets to mull over how their own defensive lapses and handling errors had let this result slip away from them.
Newtown's halfback Jamie Soward won the players' player award for the third time in four outings. Hooker Heath L'Estrange was the standout forward, with worthy support from second-rower Nigel Plum and interchange players George Ndaira and Grant Millington. Prop Dale Newtown risks expulsion from the front-rowers' union with his third try in four competition rounds. Centre Vince Mellars turned in his best match of the season and Anthony Watts posted his second try in two appearances in his unaccustomed wing position.
The Newtown Jets face further stiff opposition next Saturday (April 14th) in the keenly-anticipated local derby with the Balmain Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. This match counts towards the coveted Trevor Ryan-Neil Pringle Shield and will kick off at 3.00pm.