Rugby League: Newcastle Knights recover from Saifiti injury scare to power past Canberra Raiders

THEY were two comforting words that cleared Daniel Saifiti’s head and inspired the barnstorming front-rower to propel the Newcastle Knights to a stirring 34-20 win over the Canberra Raiders at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

Saifiti had left his teammates in a huddle and walked over to the side of twin brother Jacob.

The 10,997 fans at the stadium, there to celebrate the indigenous round, held their collective breath when the 21-year-old laid flat on his back after a tackle on Raiders interchange forward Dunamis Lui in the 28th minute.

Play was held up for nearly 10 minutes as medical staff took every precaution after Saifiti had felt “pins and needles” down the side of his neck and arm.

CONCERN: Jacob Saifiti

CONCERN: Jacob Saifiti

“I walked over and was worried for him,” Daniel said. “He just said, ‘I’m sweet.’ After that it cleared my head. I got the nod from him and was back in the game.”

Jacob was taken to hospital for scans. The Knights confirmed late on Sunday night that he had been cleared of major injury and discharged.

A seasoned NRL player could have been forgiven for being rattled given the nature of his sibling’s injury. Daniel took his game to another level. The 21-year-old laid a platform in the middle for the Knights, carrying the ball a game-high 183 metres to go with 23 bruising tackles. 

“He was sensational,” coach Nathan Brown said. 

“That is what I expect from Daniel. He had a bit of a slower start to the year but the last three weeks he has got better, better and better. What he did today was that of a person who has a big future ahead of him if he gets everything right.

“He was outstanding against Test front-rowers and quality players.”

The Knights led 10-8 when Jacob Saifiti was taken from the field. They held that advantage until four minutes into the second half when Elliott Whitehead crashed over to put the visitors ahead 14-10. Previously this season the Knights have capitulated in similar scenarios.  But they responded with three tries in 10 minutes to Joe Wardle, Sione Mata’utia and Pete Mata’utia to take control.

The performance was highlighted by a perfect 19-from-19 completed sets in the second half.

“There have been times where when we have leaked one (try) after half-time we have leaked two,” Brown said. “To be able to wrestle our way back into the contest was pleasing. Then we got to the front and were able to build some pressure on the scoreboard.”

Halfback Jaelen Feeney, wearing an indigenous jersey he and teammate Dane Gagai designed, played a hand in three tries. Halves partner Brock Lamb also had his best game.

Skipper Sione Mata’utia crossed for two tries in an all-action display.

Pete Mata’utia, as well as scoring a try, helped lay on two, and in defence combined with brother Sione and Nathan Ross to contain danger men Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana.

The win was the Knights’ first since a 34-26 triumph over the Gold Coast at the same venue in round two and doubled their tally of victories from last season.

“The guys are putting in a lot of effort to get better, and that is showing on the field,” Brown said. 

“This period last year was our best period of growth. The byes and the long turnarounds between games for us is so important. If we can get the same growth this year, we should win more games.”

Apart from Jacob Saifiti, Lachlan Fitzgibbon suffered meniscus damage in his knee and Josh Starling, who provided a neat inside pass for a Pete Matu’atia try, has a suspected broken hand.

Canberra, after defeats to Manly and Canterbury, have now lost three on the trot for the first time since late 2015.

They imploded in the second half, completing just six of 13 sets, making nine errors and missing 19 tackles.

The green machine came into the year highly fancied to build on their surprise 2016 success which saw them get within a game of the grand final.

“We've got to be better than last year because teams are hunting us now, too,” coach Ricky Stuart said.