ON a day when they saluted the Hunter Valley’s miners, the Newcastle Knights slipped deeper into a seemingly bottomless pit with a 23-20 loss to Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium yesterday.
The forgotten man of Origin, Knights flyer Akuila Uate, scored a hat-trick and broke the club tryscoring record, but it was in vain as Newcastle lost their sixth straight game.
In front of a healthy crowd of 22,173, many of whom were wearing their hi-vis work attire, the Knights led 16-14 midway through the second half and looked set to end their slump, only to lose skipper Kurt Gidley to the sin bin.
Newcastle promptly imploded, conceding a penalty goal, a field goal and a converted try in the space of five minutes, and even after Uate crossed for his third try in the 77th minute, the home side fell agonisingly short.
The result left the Knights in 15th place after two wins from 12 starts. The only team below them, injury-hit Cronulla, have as many wins but inferior for-and-against statistics.
Only once in Newcastle’s history – the disastrous 2005 campaign that yielded the wooden spoon – have they been so poorly placed halfway through a season.
The turning point yesterday was Gidley’s clumsy collision with Robbie Farah as the Tigers skipper tried to take a quick tap after a Luke Brooks 40-20 touch-finder.
After remonstrating with the referees, Gidley trudged off to the sin-bin.
‘‘I was just trying to get back there as quick as possible, from my point of view,’’ Gidley said.
‘‘I knew the 40-20 was happening. They were obviously chasing back and I was trying to gather our troops and get back there as quick as possible, but he didn’t see it that way.
‘‘I didn’t know it was a 40-20 myself, and I think there was probably a few of us in that boat.’’
Predictably, Farah took a contrasting view.
‘‘We’d have scored if he didn’t knock me over,’’ Farah said.
‘‘I think teams haven’t picked up on it’s a tap restart off a 40-20.
‘‘I sprinted down there and got the ball in my hands.
‘‘My eyes were wide open ready to score.’’
With Newcastle down to 12 men, Tigers winger Richards kicked the penalty to equalise, then landed a booming field goal and converted a Chris Lawrence try in quick succession, to give the visitors a 23-16 lead.
‘‘With them being a man down, it was always going to be tough for them,’’ Farah said.
Adding to Newcastle’s anguish, big forward Kade Snowden faces a nervous wait after being placed on report for two high shots.
Snowden struck Curtis Sironen in the 33rd minute with a swinging arm, leaving the Tigers substitute dazed and down for treatment before he was helped from the field.
He was unable to return because of concussion.
Snowden was also reported for a swinging arm that struck Bodene Thompson in the head in the 68th minute.
The lumbering prop will be sweating on the match-review panel’s assessment of the incidents, given that he was found guilty of three high-contact offences last seasons, including his seven-match suspension for breaking North Queensland hooker Ray Thompson’s jaw.
With significant loading for prior offences, Snowden could be looking at more time on the sidelines.
Tigers forward Martin Taupau was also reported for a swinging arm that sparked a brief melee.
Running with a stiff southerly at their back, the Knights fought back from an early 8-0 deficit to lead 10-8 at half-time.
The Tigers regained the ascendancy four minutes after the break when Brooks darted down the blind side and sent Richards over untouched.
Richards converted his own try to make it 14-10 to the visitors.
Uate’s try three minutes from time, which the Knights chose not to convert, set up a thrilling finish.
The Knights had one last crack at the Tigers, running the ball as the hooter sounded, but Gidley was wrapped up by the defence and unable to get a pass away.