The Newtown Jets have the deserved reputation of being able to draw the best crowds in the Intrust Super Premiership competition. Light showers on Saturday morning and continued overcast conditions might have kept some supporters away, but a reasonable attendance was on hand for Newtown’s home game against the Wyong Roos.
Wyong came into this game as firm favourites on the basis of their near full-strength team line-up, as opposed to the extent of Newtown’s injury toll. The Jets also had several players called up for NRL duty as a result of the Cronulla Sharks having five players selected for State of Origin III. The Jets team included three youngsters from the Cronulla Sharks NYC squad – Lachlan Stein, Jaimin Jolliffe and Ash Nisbet – all making their senior Rugby League debuts. Newtown’s team captain and fullback Mitch Brown was a late inclusion in the Cronulla Sharks NRL ranks and the experienced Kurt Kara assumed the captaincy role for Newtown.
The game’s first quarter was keenly contested and Wyong had more possession and spent more time in the Jets territory in that period. The Roos scored in the 18th minute through City Origin five-eighth Ryan Matterson, on the back of two successive penalties that had put Wyong in a strong attacking position. Mitch Frei didn’t convert the try and the Roos led 4-0. Newtown had some good fortune when the Roos failed to find the line from a penalty kick, and then the Jets received a penalty that put them in a prime attacking position. Newtown put the pressure on Wyong’s defensive line and in-form winger Matt Evans scored from a kick in behind the Roos defensive line. Jaline Graham converted and the Jets led 6-4 after 26 minutes.
Ryan Matterson showed on several occasions he has a prodigious punt kick and he drove the Jets back to their own end with several deep drives. Allowing for the disruption in their team line-up and preparation, the Jets were making a real contest of this match. Wyong winger Dominic Reardon made an excellent 45 metre run, and the Roos built on this for Abraham Papalli to score in the 35th minute. Mitch Frei converted and Wyong led 10-6, which remained the halftime score. It had been a high standard first half despite the low scores.
The second half also proved to be a hard-fought encounter but one that kept the crowd thoroughly interested right up until full-time. The Newtown home crowd was well aware that their team was not at full-strength and gave their boys plenty of vocal support.
Wyong applied attacking pressure on the Jets in the third quarter but the home team hung in gamely. The match might have been an arm-wrestle but it was not a dour spectacle, with play moving from end to end and both teams trying to apply a try-scoring blow. A critical phase of play started when Jets winger Jacob Gagan caught a towering kick from Ryan Matterson, with several Wyong would-be tacklers bearing down on him. The Jets then worked the ball upfield and Jaline Graham’s fifth tackle kick was knocked on, putting Newtown in a strong attacking position. Their next set fizzled out to nothing, and then Wyong winger Chris Centrone scored a game-breaking try against the run of play, as he cut through the Jets defence and raced 90 metres to score under the southern end goal-posts in the 66th minute. Frei converted and Wyong was in a very strong position with a 16-6 lead.
The Jets refused to concede and continued to throw plenty of attack at the Wyong defenders. Matterson’s powerful kicking game was a massive asset to Wyong, as he drove the ball deep into Newtown’s territory on several occasions. Repeat penalties put the Jets close to Wyong’s line and Jacob Gagan scored in the 76th minute, with Jaline Graham converting and narrowing Wyong’s lead to 16-12. The Roos managed to contain Newtown in the final minutes to maintain that four-point margin.
This was an important win for the Roos as they strive to lock in a top eight position. Ryan Matterson was one of their best players, along with Mitch Williams, Eloni Vunakece and Zane Tetevano. Both Houma brothers played strongly for Newtown, as did Junior Roqica, Kurt Kara, Jordan Drew and Matt Evans. The three young Cronulla players did well in what was a tough first-up senior Rugby League assignment.