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The Newcastle Knights put themselves back into Premier League?s top 8 after a 23-16 win over the Bulldogs at Telstra Stadium on Saturday night. At the moment, they are the only side in the top 8 with a negative differential, which may come back to haunt them if it costs them a spot in the finals this year.
The Knights had several changes to their original named side, with young 20 year old Luke Walsh brought up from Jersey Flegg to play halfback when Australian schoolboys captain, Jarrod Mullen had to pull out because of a sternum injury. Michael Young was then switched from the centres to play five-eight when Riley Brown was called up into the Knights first grade side, as their injury toll continues.
The Knights took a while to get into their groove, but slowly warmed to their task as they went to the halftime break leading by 16 points to 4. The Bulldogs were the first to score, when winger Masakini Richter crossed out wide in the 10th minute of play. The Knights didn?t take long to hit back and 5 minutes later, lock forward Blake Mueller crashed over. After Walsh missed his first attempt for the night, the two sides found themselves locked at 4-4. The two sides slowly started to try and work each other over, asking a few questions of the defence, which held up from both teams. During this passage of play, the Knights had the majority of the ball, but could not break the Bulldogs brick wall like defence. In the 28th minute, through having a severe portion of the ball, the Knights hit the lead when Matthew Bartlett scored 10 metres in from touch. Walsh, after having a great game with the boot for the Knights Jersey Flegg side the previous week, landed the conversion to extend the Knights lead out to 10-4. Again, defence seemed to be the dominating factor as both teams struggled to even make half-breaks, but both sides completed their sets and with good kicks, had the opposition working the ball off their own line. In the 36th minute, Knights fullback Nathan Hinton extended the away sides lead even further when he raced away to score adjacent to the posts, after Walsh had a hand in the original break. Walsh again added the extras and the Knights, although suffering from positional changes appeared to be in control. This remained the score at the halftime break, and Knights coach David Fairleigh would have been stressing to his players he didn?t want a repeat of their second half capitulation where they escaped with a 28-all draw the previous week.
Both sides returned for the second half appearing to be focused on the job at hand. The Knights, after most likely being reminded of their match the previous week during the break, broke away in the 43rd minute through second rower and captain Kurt Hancock put the Knights out to a 22-4 lead when Walsh converted. In the 48th minute, the Bulldogs task was made all the more harder when Ben Czislowski was sent to the sin-bin by referee Steve Lyons for a professional foul. The Knights could have pushed further ahead with a penalty goal right in front of the posts, but they looked for the try and coughed the ball up during the ensuing set of six. As a consequence, they were made to pay dearly for that mistake when in the 52nd minute, the Bulldogs cut the lead to 22-10 through Isaac Kaufmann who raced 50 metres when Luke Young put him away. Fullback Nathan Barry added the conversion and it was game on.
The following twenty minutes was almost mistake-free football, with both teams not wanting to be too expansive in their play. In the 65th minute, Daniel Spiteri from the Knights made a break down the western touchline and with support looming up on the outside, took on Barry, who made a try-saving tackle to keep his side in the game. Czislowski then turned hero after returning from his stint in the sin-bin when he gave his side some hope of a victory when he crashed over in the 72nd minute. Luke Young successfully converted and the Dogs were finishing the stronger and the Knights players minds would have been flashing back to their previous weeks draw. In the 77th minute, Knights halfback Luke Walsh, showing a calmness well beyond his years, steered his side to the posts and calmly potted the match winning field goal from 15 metres out. 23-16 remained the fulltime score as the Knights climbed back into the top 8.
For the Knights, halfback Luke Walsh, making the step up from Jersey Flegg was the Knights best. He steered the side around sensationally, his kicking game was top notch and he landed 3 goals from 4 attempts and kicked the match-sealing field goal. Special mention must be given to Michael Young, who was switched from the centres to the five-eight position and he did the job admirably. Next week the Knights take on the 5th placed Manly Sea-Eagles at EnergyAustralia Stadium in another match they must win to keep their finals chances on track.