Gagai stakes QLD claims as Knights escape with glory

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Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights

A Dane Gagai double has helped stake his claims for a QLD recall, and guided the Newcastle Knights to a gritty 16-12 win over the Canberra Raiders in the nation's capital.

After dominating early possession, Canberra capitalised on the territory and crossed for the opening points. A simple crash ball from Tom Starling saw big Josh Papali'i crash over three Newcastle defenders to score for the Raiders after five minutes. Despite Gerard Sutton initially saying he didn't ground the ball, it took Kasey Badger one replay to award Canberra's first try in a first half at home since Round 12.

Newcastle weren't going to be kept out of it for long. After a cynical high tackle on Kalyn Ponga by Joe Tapine. The Knights shifted the ball right as Will Pryce linked up with Dane Gagai who was able to beat three defenders to hit back. Jackson Hastings hooked it back like fellow countrymen David Beckham to level the scores after 12 minutes of play.

The Knights were building possession and soon found gaps in Canberra's defence. A great carry from Mat Croker through the middle saw him taken metres from the line. From the ensuing tackle, it was PTSD from 2023 with Newcastle's left edge running rampant to send Greg Marzhew flying down the sideline to cross out wide and take the lead after 18 minutes. Hastings' conversion doinked off the uprights to keep the Knights in front by four.

The rest of the opening half was a back and forth affair as both sides jostled for momentum. During this period, it seemed the Knights had the better of play as the Raiders were forced to repeatedly work it from off their own goal-line. Canberra had their best chance since crossing when Ethan Strange blitzed the defence, desperation from Brodie Jones saw the young pivot denied. This saw us head to the sheds with the score at 10-6 and the game very much in the balance.

Newcastle capitalised on a Morgan Smithies forward pass to open second half proceedings. It was Hastings again turning provider for the visitors. As the defence on Ponga, their attention seemed to be focusing all on the returning custodian, but they forgot about the flying Gagai on the inside to cross for his second of the evening. Will Pryce took over the goal-kicking and atoned for some disappointing first half touches to put the gap to 10 points.

Newcastle were making breaks through the middle off two consecutive kick returns. Marzhew's strong return set the Knights up in attacking field position, but unfortunately couldn't execute. Ponga's pass was intercepted by Elliott Whitehead who found Kaeo Weekes who blew the Knights away to bring the Raiders back to life. Jordan Rapana converted to cut the gap to four points.

The rest of the second forty saw the Knights do their very best to give Canberra chances to level the scores. Ponga lost the ball in a kick contest with six minutes to go, a flying Simi Sasagi was ruled to be short of the line. But, the bunker found a knock on in the kick contest to deny Sasagi. In the dying moments, Ethan Strange put the boot in behind and Xavier Savage claimed a try. But, Kasey Badger correctly denied him which allowed the Knights to hang on for a tenacious victory.

Canberra Raiders 12 - Newcastle Knights 16

Venue: GIO Stadium Canberra, Bruce / Ngunnawal
Crowd: 12553
Halftime Score: Canberra Raiders 6 Newcastle Knights 10 Players of the Match:
3 points - Dane Gagai
2 points - Joseph Tapine
1 points - Jackson Hastings

Tries: Josh Papali'i, Kaeo Weekes
Field Goals:
Two Point Field Goals:
Conversions: Jordan Rapana (2/2)
Penalty Goals:

Tries: Dane Gagai (2), Greg Marzhew
Field Goals:
Two Point Field Goals:
Conversions: Jackson Hastings (1/2), Will Pryce (1/1)
Penalty Goals:

See how it happened in our Match Centre