Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett has been calling for some resolve in defence for weeks now.
Well that’s exactly what Bennett got from his charges in a gutsy 26-12 win over the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
On the back of a spirited display with skipper Kurt Gidley and prop Kade Snowden both leaving the field in the second half, the Knights showed enormous courage to constantly repel the Raiders to record only their fifth win in the nation's capital in the Club's history.
Jarrod Mullen enjoyed a successful return from his hamstring injury, with the star five-eighth controlling the match with his pinpoint kicking game and organisational skills.
Mullen was well backed up by prop Willie Mason, who made plenty of metres up front, while Aku Uate, Beau Scott and Adam Clydsdale all stood out in an impressive all-round victory.
The Knights will look to continue their momentum when they take on the Brisbane Broncos next week in a blockbuster Good Friday clash at Hunter Stadium.
Newcastle made a number of positional changes prior to kick-off.
Chris Houston and Zane Tetevano were named in the starting side, shifting Willie Mason and Robbie Rochow back to the bench.
Adam Cuthbertson and David Fa’alogo played NSW Cup against Mounties.
As confirmed on Friday, the Knights also welcomed back Mullen from his hamstring injury.
Mullen’s return paid immediate rewards with the classy No.6 putting in a strong kick with his first attempt.
Newcastle had the first attacking opportunity after five minutes, but couldn’t crack the strong Raiders’ defence.
Canberra opened the scoring in the 9th minute via centre Jarrod Croker, who finished off a neat backline move to cross in the eastern corner.
The centre converted his own try to give the Raiders an early 6-0 lead.
Newcastle had a chance to respond four minutes later, but centre Dane Gagai dropped the ball over the sideline.
The Knights hit back in the 16th minute with winger James McManus crossing in the corner.
McManus showed enormous strength and skill to plant the ball down ahead of the converging Raiders’ defenders.
Tyrone Roberts converted from the sideline to lock the scores at 6-all with 22 minutes remaining in the first half.
Canberra controlled possession for the next 10 minutes of the match, but were unable to convert.
The Raiders looked to have scored in the 31st minute via Croker, but he lost control of the ball.
Newcastle repelled the Raiders for most of the first half and were rewarded in the 32nd minute when replacement hooker Adam Clydsdale did it all himself to score.
Roberts added the extras from the sideline to give the Knights a 12-6 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half.
Canberra responded on the stroke of halftime via replacement forward Shannon Boyd.
Croker converted from in front to lock the scores at 12-all with two minutes left in the half.
Newcastle fullback Darius Boyd had a big chance to score before halftime, but his pass to Aku Uate went over the sideline to leave the scores levelled at the break.
It was a sloppy opening to the second half with both teams coming up with basic errors.
Canberra had the first chance to score, but the Knights defence held strong.
They were rewarded for this effort in the 48th minute when back-rower Beau Scott finished off a length-of-the-field effort that started with a perfect pass from Mason.
The veteran bookend unloaded in traffic to put McManus away on a 40 metre run.
On the next play, Scott barged to score and give the Knights an 18-12 lead following another Roberts’ conversion.
Skipper Kurt Gidley left the field in the 57th minute with concussion after trying to attempt a tackle.
Canberra had a great chance to score, but once again the Knights defence held strong.
It was resolve that again went rewarded in the 60th minute when Gagai capped off a strong team try that started in their own end of the field.
Roberts converted from in front to give the Knights a comfortable 24-12 buffer with 19 minutes remaining.
Knights prop Kade Snowden left the field on a stretcher in the 63rd minute after hitting his head while attempting a tackle.
Canberra looked destined to score in the 68th minute, but winger Bill Tupou couldn't handle the ball with the try line wide open.
Newcastle extended their lead to 26-12 in the 74th minute via a penalty goal to Roberts.
Newcastle Knights 26 (T: McManus, Clydsdale, Scott, Gagai, G: Roberts 4/4, P: Roberts 1/1)
Canberra Raiders 12 (T: Croker, Boyd, G: Croker 2/2)