WAYNE Bennett thought the turning point was a Warriors field goal just before half-time, but for tryscorer Dane Gagai, it was the look in teammate Aku Uate’s eyes.
Knights players rated Saturday’s 24-19 win over the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium as even better than the previous week’s belting of premiers Manly at home, coming as it did after trailing 18-0 after 17 minutes and despite having three tries disallowed.
An unlikely finals berth is now on the radar of the Novocastrians, who looked like bagging the wooden spoon only a month ago.
James Maloney’s field goal with two minutes left in the first half gave the Knights a sniff, according to Bennett.
“I think one of the crucial plays in the game was their field goal,” he said.
“They go in at 18-6, maybe they get a repeat set. But they kick a field goal, they go to 19-6, we kick off, they fumble the ball which was the only handling error they had for the whole half ... and we we pick up a try in the far corner. Now it’s 19-12 at half-time.
“That’s something to hang your hat on when they come into the room.”
But Gagai, the mid-season signing from Brisbane who put his side ahead in the 60th minute, reckoned Uate dropping the ball over the tryline when he attempted a one-handed put-down in the 45th prompted the win rather than made a loss more likely.
A minute after video referee Rod Lawrence flashed the red light, the Fijian and Australian international fielded a bomb spectacularly and surged 40 metres upfield before a quick spread to the left put Timana Tahu over in the opposite corner.
“He made a bit of a mistake, but I just kept talking to him and I could see the look in his eye – that he wanted to get his hand on the ball,’’ Gagai said.
“And when he did that, he made the most of it.
‘‘It was a top run by him and he definitely made up for his error. It led to a try.
“We still have our eyes on the top eight and being a part of the finals. We’re not shutting anything out.”
Uate brushed off the gaffe just as readily after the game as he did during it.
“You just can’t put your head down when you do mistakes like that,” he said.
“For me, I’ve got to make up for it and keep working on it. It was a bad mistake from me. The game is finished now, we’ve got to move on to the next game against Canberra.
“Coming to New Zealand is a tough game and we showed Wayne and we showed Newcastle we can do it – be in the top eight.”
Centre Tahu, who equalled the Knights’ try-scoring record, said he had never played in a game where fortunes swung so decisively.
Lock Neville Costigan said most players rated the win higher than the previous week’s 32-6 success over Manly because of the head start they gave the opposition and the fact they had gone six games without a win in Auckland.
Bennett’s comments on the field goal were part of an intriguing exchange after the game between the coaches and media over the use of the interchange.
Warriors coach Brian McClennan was questioned about replacing Feleti Mateo, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino at crucial stages.
Bennett said having too many youngsters on the field “will lose you games”.
McClennan admitted he would need to re-examine his rotation but insisted Mateo could not play 80 minutes.
“At 18-0, you’re on the highway to nowhere,” Bennett said. “You fight to get in front and you lose the ball over the try line. You’re thinking, ‘Where’s this going to go now?’”