Newcastle Knights made heavy weather of the game but triumphed 20-18 against a spirited South Sydney Rabbitohs side tonight at Bankwest Stadium.
For 60 minutes, this report was about a clinical Knights effort which kept the Rabbitohs scoreless. Enter a manic final quarter where the Bunnies almost stole the contest through a double to Damien Cook and Mark Nicholls to bring it back to 20-18. Newcastle held on after a superb Ponga-inspired first half gave them enough of a buffer to move into the NRL top four.
There has been criticism levelled at Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga and the fullback seemed to channel all that into his performance tonight. He showed trademark power and speed to score himself and laid on an assist for Bradman Best in the second half.
Overall, the Knights responded to their loss to the Eels in style. Best terrorised the defense with his work, set up the opener with a flick pass for Enari Tuala then created the space . Next, it was the unsung hero for the visitors, Kurt Mann, bursting onto the Mitch Pearce pass made it 10-nil.
Mann once again combined with his halves partner after a rampaging Best run to make it 14-nil at the break. Best himself stretched the advantage to 20 as the Knights were aiming up and seemed to be enjoying their first trip to Sydney's west this season.
From there, it all came crashing down. A successful challenge from Junior Tatola gave them room then interchange forward Mark Nicholls burst through to create a tiny hole which turned into a burst dam. Damien Cook injected himself into the game, jinked and spun through the defense, picking up two tries to make the visitors nervous at 20-18.
The Knights held firm, and move into the top four despite their inconsistent effort. Coach Adam O'Brien will be fuming with the final quarter but the first hour showed the Knights can be a side to challenge anyone in the competition, at their best.
For the Rabbitohs, consistency remains their issue. Beating up on the lowly sides can only get you so far, and thus far, the cardinal-and-myrtle have failed their tests against fellow top eight contenders. Not having Latrell Mitchell also stymied their attack, as they fumbled and bumbled. The late swell of points only puts a bandaid on the problems there and a dour end to Wayne Bennett's 850 Premiership game.