A Trent Hodkinson-led Newcastle Knights have posted one of the upsets of the NSW Intrust Super Premiership season with a thrilling 24-18 win over the highly-rated Mounties at Cessnock Sports Ground this afternoon.
In a high-quality contest played at a cracking pace, the first half produced very few stoppages – the first penalty was not blown until the 21st minute and the first scrum was packed in the 28th minute – as both sides felt each other out in the early exchanges.
The Knights opened the scoring in the 14th minute when a Will Pearsall cross field kick was batted back by winger Tom Hughes to centre Jacob Gagan who in turn fed fullback Nick Meaney on the inside to score for a 6-nil lead.
Hardworking Newcastle lock Jack Stockwell doubled the lead when he crashed over from close range on the back of a repeat set 10 minutes later. Hodkinson converted to have the Knights up 12-nil.
The visitors came back hard in the last 10 minutes of the first half after getting some repeat sets on the back of three consecutive penalties.
First, a Zac Santo grubber kick in behind the defence with 10 minutes left in the first half saw centre Brent Naden get to the ball first to score.
Then from a penalty from the restart set, lock Sam Duggan muscled over from close range for a second Mounties try in four minutes. Five eighth Jordan Turner converted to level scores at 12-all at half time.
Following a tight start to the second half, a repeat set on the back of a penalty eight minutes into the second stanza saw a pin point cross field kick from Hodkinson saw Hughes leap higher than his opposite winger Eddie Aiono to score and regain the lead for the Knights at 18-12 with Hodkinson’s conversion from touch.
The match then took a vicious toll over the next 10 minutes as both sides upped the ante in defence.
Four players were sent to the ‘head bin’ for concussion in the space of five minutes – Pearsall and Mickey Paea for Newcastle, with Kurt Baptiste and Turner having to undergo concussion tests for Mounties. Pearsall was the only player of the four that passed the mandatory HIA concussion test to come back and finish the match.
The key moment of the match came midway through the second half when the Knights scored the most spectacular try of the match.
Hughes got on the outside of his man down the left when the ball was spread by Hodkinson from deep inside the Knights’ half.
Hughes then raced 30 metres down the touch line before sending a lovely pass back on the inside to Hodkinson for the former State Of Origin five eighth to dash the last 45 metres to score near the posts. Hodkinson converted his own try to blow the Newcastle out to 24-12.
The Mulga still had plenty to give – despite the prop Royce Hunt being placed on report by referee Darian Furner from the restart for an old fashioned ‘bell ringer’ shoulder charge on Knights’ interchange player Tyrone Amey.
With 10 minutes left, a repeat set from a penalty saw a Duggan pass find backrower Scott Sorenson who in turn threw a long pass on to the chest of interchange winger Mastuesi Dakuwaqa who strolled over in the corner. With Turner off the field, Duggan converted from touch to set up the grandstand finish at 24-18.
Mounties threw everything at the tiring Kinghts in the closing stages to no avail – the closest call coming when Aiono was penalised for obstruction with four minutes left when on his way over for a possible try on the call of Touch Judge Cameron Mitchell.
The Knights then held on grimly in defence in the last few minutes to snap their three game losing streak.
The Knights host Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium next Sunday at 11:45am – starting off a big program that culminates with the NRL clash between the clubs later in the day.
Mounties play their next match back at home at Aubrey Keech Reserve home next Saturday against the Wests Tigers.
Newcastle Knights 24 (N Meaney, J Stockwell, T Hughes, T Hodkinson tries; T Hodkinson 4 goals) def. Mounties RLFC 18 (B Naden, S Duggan, R M Dakuwaqa tries; J Turner 2, S Duggan goals)