KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett has thought about dropping halfback Tyrone Roberts every week since handing him the No.7 jersey almost three months ago.
Bennett said that idea would not cross his mind this week after Roberts engineered Newcastle’s stunning 32-6 victory over defending premiers Manly at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
The 21-year-old Ballina Seagulls junior has played 11 games this year, including nine straight since being called in to permanently replace injured captain Kurt Gidley, who suffered a season-ending dislocated shoulder in Newcastle’s 34-14 victory over Penrith at Hunter Stadium on April 30.
Until Saturday night, the former Junior Kangaroos representative had only played in three winning Knights teams this season. Though not out of his depth, there were signs of growing pains as he tried to establish a combination with experienced halves partner Jarrod Mullen, and he had been unable to stamp his authority on an outcome.
Even against the Sea Eagles, Roberts twice kicked out on the full and missed a tackle on Manly fullback Dean Whare that resulted in a long break by the visitors.
But with three minutes left before half-time, and the Knights leading only 4-0 despite being the dominant side for most of the first half, Roberts called for the ball close to the Manly line after the Knights had been awarded a penalty.
Taking a pass from dummy half Danny Buderus, Roberts ran at the defensive line, stepped off his left foot and into the clear, then propped off his right and dived over to score a valuable try. He converted from close range to give the Knights a much healthier 10-0 cushion heading to the sheds.
With more of a spring in his step in the second half as the Knights looked to consolidate, Roberts threw a cut-out pass for left winger James McManus to score in the corner in the 53rd minute and converted from the sideline to extend the lead to 16-0.
Then with eight minutes left, after the Sea Eagles had closed the gap to 22-6 with a Brent Kite converted try 10 minutes earlier, Roberts combined with centre Timana Tahu to put McManus across in the same corner for a second try to seal one of the upsets of the season.
Roberts made his NRL debut under Rick Stone last season among seven appearances in the top grade, and he impressed Bennett during pre-season training until his progress was halted by a fractured eye socket suffered in a trial against Penrith at Port Macquarie in February.
Knowing Gidley was unavailable, Ryan Stig was sidelined indefinitely with a blood clot in his eye, and Albert Kelly had been released after breaching the club’s disciplinary code of conduct, Bennett’s choices in the halves have been limited.
But the coach conceded on Saturday night that he had regularly considered other alternatives during the team’s mediocre campaign.
‘‘Yeah, every week. Maybe I won’t think about that this week,’’ Bennett said when asked if he had considered dropping the developing playmaker.
‘‘He really stood up tonight.
‘‘In my long coaching career if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s about being patient with players, and that patience paid off for us.’’