Peter Sterling: Knights team up at last


O that was “it”. The “it” that coach Wayne Bennett has been looking for his players to “buy into”.

If that was the case, then it wasn’t as cryptic or complicated as we might have thought.

In the end it was just a matter of playing with energy, enthusiasm and for each other.

On Monday night the Knights finally put together the kind of performance that the Newcastle faithful have been waiting for since the new season began under the new coach.

I must admit that I didn’t see it coming, especially after recent showings that Bennett described as “embarrassing” and not giving any indication that the side was moving in the right direction.

For more than 18,000 fans to have turned out for the game against the Tigers was fantastic in the circumstances and a clear sign that the Knights’ supporters are there for their team through thick and thin.

At 14-0 down after 23 minutes they might have been questioning that loyalty, but that lead had been established against the run of play.

From Willie Mason’s opening charge from the kick-off the home side looked eager and dangerous, especially down the short, left side where they were making plenty of inroads.

The fact that Mason and fellow prop Kade Snowden both had two hit-ups in the opening set of six showed that they were ready to lead the way. And they did.

Big Willie was at his rampaging best and Kade was in the kind of form that earned him a sky blue jersey at this time last season.

Fortunately they had plenty of helpers, and while Alex McKinnon and Zane Tetevano were both used very sparingly, everyone played their part.

After conceding early points it was then a question of whether the Knights would drop their heads and let the dangerous Tigers get on a bigger roll?

Fortunately for the big home crowd they dug in for the fight and it was a fortuitous penalty in the 26th minute that proved to be the catalyst to their comeback.

With the Tigers about to mount a further attack on the back of an imminent scrum win only 10 metres from the Newcastle line, front-rowers Ray Cashmere and Snowden were involved in a minor scuffle.

The call went against Cashmere and the biggest turning point of the night resulted in the Knights scoring soon after and going on to rack up 38 unanswered points.

This was achieved as a result of each player looking to help out those around them and most importantly being acknowledged in the process.

A couple of tackles before the Akuila Uate try James McManus was somehow able to stay in the field of play when it seemed inevitable he’d be bundled into touch.

The flying Fijian would not have been able to produce his spectacular four-pointer if his fellow winger had not been able to come up with his Houdini play on the other side of the field moments earlier.

This was not missed by his teammates, nor the crunching tackle by back-rower Joel Edwards on Lote Tuqiri which precipitated the second of Timana Tahu’s hat-trick.

The formidable Tuqiri dropped the ball as Edwards, a punishing defender, approached and crunched the winger with no thought of self-preservation.

Tahu was the main beneficiary, but Edwards received as much congratulation.

That is how a united and selfless team reacts.

It seems appropriate that Joel is now sporting the headgear because so many of the game’s best bell-ringers have also opted for the torpedo skull cap.

The likes of Allan Thomson, Michael Porter, Peter Johnston, Peter Kelly and Nigel Plum come readily to mind.

Tahu hurt the opposition in a different way with his winding back of the clock to what he was producing at the same ground a decade ago.

His three-try effort has moved him to just one behind Adam MacDougall’s all-time Newcastle record of 87 for the club.

However, the best performance of the night came from fullback Darius Boyd, who was heavily involved and completely assured in everything he did.

Thanks to those around him he was given time to operate, and it was no surprise he was then able to feature so prominently in most of the team’s scoring plays.

Some of his smartest touches could easily have gone unnoticed, especially his role in the eventual sin-binning of Beau Ryan.

Boyd initiated the play by holding the ball before the defence and eventually drawing the inexperienced Ben Murdoch-Masila up and out of the line to open a hole for Jarrod Mullen to slide through.

Ryan made the try-saving tackle on the Knights No.6 but held on too long and was dispatched for 10 minutes for the professional foul.

The Newcastle victory places them only 12th on the ladder, four points adrift of the top eight and with plenty of work to do if they are to feature in finals football.

I feel that will require 28 competition points, which is the same total that saw them sneak into last year’s play-offs.

With 10 rounds remaining the Knights need to win seven of those games.

They have two encounters against Manly, Souths and the Warriors as well as meetings with Cronulla, Canterbury, Parramatta and Canberra.

Six are away from home, so the task is extremely difficult.

At least after Monday night they know that they possess the “it” factor – it’s now a case of producing “it” every week.

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