TIMANA Tahu owed Wayne Bennett that one. Big time.
Since his return to Newcastle this season, eight years after embarking on a journey that took him to Parramatta, rugby union, back to Parramatta then Penrith, Tahu has shown only glimpses of his true colours.
In his first 11 games this season, the former Test flyer scored one try, made one line break, and produced two try assists.
His prolific previous stint for Newcastle, when he crossed the stripe a club-record 82times in 97 games, seemed a lifetime ago.
His most memorable contribution this year was in round one, when he kneed Dragons forward Matt Prior in the head and copped a one-week suspension.
Junior Sa’u and Wes Naiqama have been in and out of Newcastle’s first-grade side all season – and are searching for new clubs – but Tahu has been a fixture on the left edge. Bennett apparently subscribes to the theory that form is temporary, class is permanent.
Tahu is 31 and missed most of last season with a long-term injury.
It was always likely the dual international would need time to find his feet.
Last night at Hunter Stadium he repaid Bennett’s faith with interest.
In the space of 12minutes, Tahu scorched over for a hat-trick of tries against Wests Tigers that enabled Newcastle to transform an early 14-0 deficit into a 16-14 half-time lead.
It was the first time Newcastle had been in front at the interval since their previous win, against Penrith on April 30. The psychological boost Tahu’s spree gave his teammates was priceless.
After five successive defeats, last night was must-win for the Knights. A loss would have left them four wins adrift of the top eight with 10 games to play.
The NRL equivalent of Mission: Impossible.
But judging by their spirited revival, and the confidence they will have gained from the final 38-20 scoreline, the Knights are not done yet.
They still have a formidable line-up on paper. And finally, after a slump that threatened to condemn them to finishing with the also-rans, everything just clicked.
Fullback Darius Boyd showed the quality that has entrenched him in the Queensland and Australian team, playing a hand in Newcastle’s first four tries.
Winger Aku Uate, dumped on Sunday from the NSW Origin team, responded with a try and a game-high 167 attacking metres.
Up front, big Willie Mason and Kade Snowden carried the ball with vigour.
Danny Buderus and Chris Houston, Newcastle’s best two players this season, were typically energetic, and back-rower Joel Edwards produced some crunching hits, one of which sickened Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri.
Halfback Tyrone Roberts iced perhaps his best game in the NRL with seven goals from eight attempts, several of them from the sideline.
But it was the performance of Tahu that will linger longest in the memory.
‘‘Timana wound the clock back a bit tonight,’’ skipper Danny Buderus said.
‘‘It seemed to be a long time coming,’’ Bennett added with a wry smile.
The master coach said Tahu has ‘‘had to put the pieces back together, little by little’’, because he has played so sporadically over the past few years.
‘‘We’ve been patient,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘We’ve allowed him to do that. With the champion players – he’s a bit more than a class player, he’s been at the top level of the game for over a decade when he’s been at his best – you’ve always got confidence in those players.
‘‘They don’t like to fail you.’’
Tahu paid tribute to the healthy Monday-night crowd of 18,673, who had not celebrated a win for 56 days.
‘‘We hit a low point at the club, but a big clap to the fans,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s 18,000 here tonight and this is what’s good about playing here and, for me, coming home.
‘‘When you need it, they get behind you.’’