New Newcastle head coach Adam O’Brien enjoyed a winning start to his NRL career as the Knights shut out the Warriors 20-0 at a wet, wind-lashed McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
In what could be the Warriors’ last game for the foreseeable future because of strict new travel restrictions imposed by the New Zealand Government, they trailed 10-0 at half-time despite a strong wind at their backs and the Knights went on with the job in the second half.
O’Brien spent the pre-season emphasising the need for the Knights to become a more resilient defensive unit and they put that preparation into practice, holding a team to nil for the first time in six years. Their last shut-out was a 30-0 victory over Cronulla in April 2014.
Led by NSW props David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti, back-rower Mitch Barnett and new hooker Jayden Brailey, the Newcastle forwards emphatically won the battle of the middle.
They often drove the Warriors big men backwards in gang tackles, kept Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck under wraps, and scrambled well on the few occasions the visitors threatened.
Despite the slippery conditions, the Warriors completed 19 of 21 sets in the first half but paid the price for their ill-discipline. They conceded eight penalties in the first 20 minutes to trail 10-0 and lost five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita to the sin-bin for those repeated infringements.
Match: Knights v Warriors
Round 1 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Back-to-back penalties in the eighth minute allowed the Knights to establish good field position.
Taking an inside pass from captain Mitchell Pearce, Knights prop Daniel Saifiti crashed over to score close to the posts in the ninth minute and Kalyn Ponga converted for a 6-0 lead.
Saifiti bounced out of an attempted tackle by Adam Blair and powered over to score.
The Knights extended their lead nine minutes later when a Ponga grubber kick pin-balled off several Warriors defenders, Kurt Mann recovered the ball, and stepped and jinked to his left to send winger Edrick Lee over to score Newcastle’s second try.
Though they did not concede any points while Harris-Tavita was in the sheds, the Warriors could not post any either despite benefiting from three straight penalties.
Having conceded eight penalties in the first half, the Warriors gave away four more in the first eight minutes of the second half to again earn the ire of referee Henry Perenara.
Ponga converted two of those into goals in the 44th and 49th minutes to extend Newcastle’s lead to 14-0, then he was on the spot to score Newcastle’s third try five minutes later.
After Mann stayed on his feet to keep the play alive on Newcastle’s right edge, he combined with Pearce who trickled a grubber behind the Warriors’ defensive line and Ponga pounced to score and convert for a 20-0 lead.
The Knights had a chance to extend their advantage in the 60th minute when Warriors winger Patrick Herbert spilled a bomb but, with a try at his mercy, Newcastle forward Tim Glasby could not pick up the loose ball close to the line.
The Warriors enjoyed a small victory in the 63rd minute when Tuivasa-Sheck successfully challenged a knock-on call against them. After video review, it was clear Glasby knocked on first, giving Tuivasa-Sheck the first successful captain’s challenge of the season.
Knights utility Connor Watson went close to scoring under the posts in the 69th minute but was ruled to have been held up after bunker review by Jared Maxwell.
Apart from scoring a try, Lee saved a certain Warriors four-pointer when he cut down Tuivasa-Sheck close to the Newcastle line in the 78th minute to keep the visitors scoreless.
Knights right winger Hymel Hunt produced a similar effort on the other side of the field to stop Peta Hiku with 30 seconds left, and celebrated as if he had scored one himself.
The miserable conditions and ongoing concerns about the coronavirus kept the crowd to just 10,239.
Facing away matches against Wests Tigers and Sharks in the next fortnight, Newcastle’s next home game is not until April 3 against the Cowboys but that is expected to be played with no spectators.