The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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The Newcastle Knights have gone a long way towards squashing the criticism surrounding their recent away form, snapping a four-game losing streak away from home with a clinical 30-6 outclassing of fellow early-season contenders the Gold Coast Titans.
First points didn't come until just before the break but it shaped up to be a long afternoon at the office for the Titans well before that, as they lost first Ashley Harrison and then Luke O'Dwyer and Matthew Srama for the afternoon, and potentially for several weeks, through injury. Harrison went down within the first five minutes of play, crumpling in a tackle as his right leg was caught awkwardly underneath him. After some initial concern he was able to limp off the field and rumour was he would be able to return later in the contest, but he wasn't sighted for the rest of the afternoon. Luke O'Dwyer followed soon after with a broken jaw, sparking a reshuffle which saw Jamal Idris switch sides and Dave Taylor pushed out into the centres on his return from his Qld Cup exile. Matt Srama literally compounded the problems for coach John Cartwright, a dislocated finger breaking the skin and ending his afternoon. Taylor played well in the centres, while Srama's replacement Beau Falloon was a source of constant spark up the middle of the field, but the lack of healthy replacements so early in the game took its toll on the Titans towards the back end of each half.
Both sides had their opportunities in an exciting first half and it looked as thought it was the Titans with the run of play early, but it was a stroke of luck and the sharp reflexes of Dane Gagai that foiled a Titans raid and got the Knights on the board first up. Running the ball late in the tackle count Dave Taylor attracted defenders wide and looked to find Albert Kelly on his outside with space to move, but Gagai was able to stick out a hand and reel in the pass. He linked up with Mullen on his inside who was able to avoid the desperate attempt of Luke Bailey in cover, before linking with Darius Boyd who summed up the situation perfectly, straightened and squared up the last of the cover defenders before going wider to Timana Tahu on the left for the opening try. Gidley added the extras, and going into the final minutes of the half the Knights were up 6-0.
The Titans had a chance to register points of their own as the siren sounded in the background, Jamal Idris finding some space on the right edge and kicking ahead for Anthony Don chasing infield. Showing off some soccer skills Don was able to again put ball to boot, but Darius Boyd beat him on the chase to bat the ball dead and end the half.
It was again a fortunate piece of play that saw the Knights double their lead early in the second half, David Fa'alogo going in off Jarrod Mullen's towering bomb. The kick was contested by Steve Michaels and Akuila Uate, with neither able to come up with a clean catch on the ball. It instead came off Michaels' shoulder, rebounding back for Gagai who showed presence of mind to look infield and link up with Fa'alogo for the opening try of the second half.
The Titans were able to hit back soon after however, some sharp work up the middle of the field showing they were still well and truly still in the contest. After a series of good runs and quick play the balls coming out of their own end Beau Falloon spied some space behind the ruck from hooker, darting and poking his body through the line to find William Zillman racing through in support. Zillman drew fullback Darius Boyd and went to Albert Kelly on his inside, the nippy halfback streaking away to score under the posts and give the home side some hope of a comeback victory.
It wasn't to be though, as from there it was all the Knights, the visitors replying quickly and then adding two more to put the result beyond all doubt. First came the hit-back in the 58th minute, as Darius Boyd chimed into the attacking line as he does so well, going to James McManus with a textbook cut-out pass catching the Titans defenders out of position.
McManus had a double just seven minutes later, this time it was all him as he found himself with little room to move on the edge of the field. He jinked back inside, recovered his balance, spotted a gap and straightened the attack, catching the sliding Titans defensive line going too far across field and muscling his way past Mark Minichiello to score and complete his brace of tries.
An on day with the boot for Kurt Gidley continued when the Knights opted to take a shot at penalty-goal from 25m out from the Titans' line, giving both sides a chance for a breather on a warm afternoon. He slotted the penalty to extend the lead to 20 and his personal record to 5/5 for the afternoon.
Any high-scoring Knights affair wouldn't be complete without a try to the prolific Akuila Uate, the flying Fijian the end beneficiary of another spilled bomb on the Titans' line. This time Darius Boyd flew through and flew high to tap the bomb back into the arms of Chris Houston, whose quick hands found Dane Gagai on his outside. It appeared Gagai had knock on in trying to collect the ball from behind him, but closer inspection by the video referee revealed the centre had pulled it forward onto his own boot, from which it bounced up to Uate for the final try of the game.