ANOTHER determined defensive performance was not enough to atone for another uninspiring effort in attack as the Knights suffered a 12-4 loss to the Dragons at WIN Jubilee Oval last night.
St George Illawarra’s gritty victory after a scoreless second half was coach Steve Price’s second over former mentor Wayne Bennett in the space of six weeks, after the Dragons pipped the Knights 15-14 in extra time in Newcastle on opening night.
The result ended a 10-game, seven-year streak in meetings between the two teams in which the away side has won.
The Dragons dominated the first half but had to settle for a 12-4 lead after having two tries disallowed by video referee Bernard Sutton and butchering two by losing the ball over the line.
‘‘They were better than us [in the] first half, but the second half, we got ourselves back in the game and did things better than we did in the first half,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘It was a credit to these blokes that they did keep turning up. Every time they [the Dragons] looked like scoring a try, and a couple of them were no tries, but at least players were putting the pressure on there, forcing an error or whatever.
‘‘We were fortunate to be in there at 12-4 but we were there, and again, that’s what these guys do as good as anybody I’ve coached. They really do hang in. They mightn’t be playing well, but they don’t give up easy.’’
Newcastle appeared to have closed the gap in the 56th minute when halfback Tyrone Roberts put back-rower Zeb Taia over for a try but Sutton, called on again, disallowed it because he ruled prop Kade Snowden had caused an obstruction in the lead-up.
Snowden stopped as Matt Hilder passed the ball behind him to Roberts, and Newcastle-bound Dragons back-rower Beau Scott ran into Snowden’s shoulder and threw his hands in the air in despair.
‘‘All he [Snowden] needed to do was keep running,’’ referee Jared Maxwell said to Knights skipper Danny Buderus, who responded in frustration: ‘‘He can’t disappear.’’
Bennett said he had no problem with the ruling, provided it remained consistent throughout the season.
’’You’ve just got to understand the NRL. If you’re gonna touch anybody, and you’re on that outside shoulder, you’re probably going to get an obstruction on you, so you’ve just got to live with it,’’ the former Dragons coach said.
‘‘It’d be easy to say I’ve got a problem with it but I know if they don’t keep on top of that, then we’ll have a lot more guys running block plays.
‘‘It’s not really up to the officials to determine whether the defender would have got to the tackle or not. If you run the line, you find yourself in that position, and that was on the low end of the scale, what happened there.
‘‘But if they’re consistent with that, then I can live with that, and everybody knows where they stand with it.
‘‘If he didn’t make contact with him, then there probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but there was contact made, and Beau Scott bought into the contact as well, but there’s certainly not much doubt that Kade did also.’’
Despite contributing to Newcastle’s only try of the night, it was an unhappy return for former Dragons fullback Darius Boyd, who spilled a bomb and landed flat on his back trying to defuse another.
Boyd was booed loudly on his first kick return in the opening minute, and Dragons fans were cursing again in the 12th minute when their 2010 premiership-winning fullback and Churchill medallist combined with Danny Buderus and Jarrod Mullen to send Aku Uate darting over in the corner for a try and a 4-0 lead.
Mullen suffered a badly corked thigh when tackled by Dan Hunt in the process of kicking the ball in the second minute and took several minutes to rejoin play.
Bennett said his five-eighth would be fit to play for Country Origin against City at Mudgee tomorrow week if selectors chose him tomorrow night.
Uate’s try came five minutes after Sutton disallowed a Ben Creagh try, ruling Creagh lost control of Jamie Soward’s perfectly placed cross-field bomb before grounding it.
The Dragons roared to life with two converted tries in a three-minute burst midway through the first half to take a 12-4 lead.
Scott took a pass from skipper Ben Hornby and crashed through Mullen’s and Taia’s attempted tackles to score close to the posts in the 19th minute for a 6-4 lead after Soward converted.
Soward’s inside pass sent fullback Brett Morris into the clear three minutes later then Morris drew Boyd, the man he replaced in the Dragons’ No.1 jersey, and sent Nightingale across to score.
Buderus caught Nightingale high just before he grounded it, earning the ire of Dragons fans in the south-west corner of the ground.
Soward converted for a 12-4 lead and the Knights were lucky not to fall further behind three minutes later when Uate let a towering bomb bounce.
Left winger Daniel Vidot crossed out wide after the Dragons recovered possession, but Sutton denied the try, ruling Soward had pushed Uate in the back.
The Knights dodged another couple of bullets before the first half was over.
St George Illawarra centre Kyle Stanley spilled the ball as he tried to scramble over the line in the 32nd minute, then Mullen stripped the ball from Creagh’s clutches in the 38th minute after Uate spilled a bomb and the Dragons recovered possession.
Needing to lift their intensity and improve their handling, the Knights made the worst possible restart.
Handling errors by Boyd, Cuthbertson and Uate forced them to defend their line for most of the first 10 minutes of the second half but they scrambled well enough to turn the Dragons away.
Despite struggling with the corked thigh he suffered when tackled by Hunt in the second minute, Mullen jolted the ball loose from Creagh with a driving tackle in the 46th minute.
The Knights went close again five minutes after Snowden conceded his obstruction penalty when he was held up over the line, trying to barge his way over.
? After leading 22-0 at half-time, the previously 13th-placed Dragons shocked Newcastle’s NYC table-topping team 36-16 in the curtain-raiser.