Knights forwards lose battle up middle

FOR once, long-time coaching rivals Wayne Bennett and Brian Smith agreed.

In what Smith described as his team’s most physically dominant performance this season, the Roosters bashed Bennett’s Knights at Allianz Stadium yesterday to win 24-6 and continue Newcastle’s yo-yo results sequence of loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss after nine rounds.

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Refusing to use the absence of injured team leaders Kurt Gidley and Danny Buderus to explain away his team’s sloppiness, Bennett said the Knights put themselves under the pump because their forwards could not hold the ball long enough to put any pressure back on the Roosters.

‘‘I’d love to use that as an excuse but we had good players out there today,’’ Bennett said.

Bennett said five-eighth Jarrod Mullen and new halfback partner Tyrone Roberts were unable to construct any threatening attacking sets because of Newcastle’s inability to control the ball and match the Roosters in the middle.

The Knights completed just 22 of 32 sets at 69per cent, compared to the Roosters’ conversion rate of 29 from 38 (76per cent), and the Roosters carved out 1465metres to Newcastle’s 1033m to control possession and field position.

‘‘They’re never going to get their combination going if we don’t complete our sets of six and get some continuity in the way we want to play,’’ Bennett said.

Likewise, Smith believed the Roosters maintained the standards they produced at their last start. They played as well as they have played all season to lead the Dragons 24-16 on Anzac Day only to concede two converted tries in the final four minutes to lose 28-24.

Smith said the game against the Dragons was of a higher standard than yesterday’s fare, but the Roosters did a better job of shutting the Knights out of the contest.

‘‘We more or less presented some of that stuff to the Dragons last time, so that was very pleasing to see our guys really close that down and dominate physically,’’ the former Knights coach said.

‘‘We found some ways to break their defence down today that I really liked.

‘‘We were really disappointed with losing but there was something out of that game that actually gave everybody a bit of confidence and we built on that in the last 10 days. Training’s been long and strong for the last couple of weeks, and we had some evidence that it’s working today.’’

Smith said halves Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta stayed patient early on, happy to work the Knights over with body shots rather than trying to land a knock-out punch.

‘‘At the back end of the game, we’re all seeing it, time after time. Teams change, they flick a switch, and they have to play a bit different when the clock’s going to run out, and teams can run up points in no time,’’ Smith said.

‘‘So taking the gas out of them, and working them over, so that hopefully they can’t come back with that at the back end of the game, is at least as important as scoring the points themselves.

‘‘Of course you’re trying to score ... but don’t go overboard, don’t take risks, don’t kick the ball away when you don’t need to – just keep working hard.

‘‘I thought that was a bit of a breakthrough for Roosters today, in our mentality. Our big boys won the game for us.’’

Despite being camped at their own end of the field for the first half-hour, the Knights took a 6-0 lead when Mullen dummied and dashed over from close range, though referees Shayne Hayne and Gavin Morris missed Matt Hilder’s knock-on at dummy-half a few tackles earlier.

The Roosters hit back four minutes later when lock Tinirau Arona won the race to Pearce’s grubber kick into the in-goal and Anasta converted for 6-6.

Anasta kicked a penalty goal to give the Roosters an 8-6 lead at half-time after Knights forward Joel Edwards was reported for a lifting tackle on Pearce in the 40th minute.

Having hung on for most of the first hour, rolling with the punches without throwing many back, the Knights wilted and conceded three tries in the space of 13minutes.

Pearce put back-rower Mitch Aubusson over, Sam Perrett scored after the ball went through 10 pairs of hands before he finished the movement, then hooker Jake Friend sent Pearce into the clear for a try of his own.

Stand-in skipper Chris Houston said Newcastle’s defensive workload in the first half took its toll late in the game.

‘‘They controlled the ball well in the first half and although we were pretty even on the scoreline, they probably had a bit more gas left in the tank, I think,’’ Houston said.

Bennett started with Neville Costigan at hooker but the former Queensland Origin forward looked out of sorts at dummy-half, and the Knights will be without Buderus for at least one more game.

Asked if Costigan would retain that role against the Cowboys at Hunter Stadium on Saturday, Bennett said: ‘‘We’ll worry about that next week. It’s not the priority right now.’’

Gidley will see shoulder specialist Des Bokor in Sydney today, expecting confirmation that he will need season-ending reconstructive surgery.

? Despite a hat-trick of tries by captain Sione Mata’utia, the Knights suffered a 39-32 loss to Parramatta in the Harold Matthews (under-16) grand final at St Mary’s on Saturday.

Outside backs Siuatonga Likiliki and Josh Mantellato scored two tries each in Newcastle’s 44-8 victory over Mounties in the NSW Cup game at Cessnock on Saturday.

The Knights survived a late Roosters rally to win 28-22 in the NYC (under 20s) curtain-raiser at Allianz Stadium yesterday.

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