While the NSW Cup Newcastle Knights battled much uncertainty around it’s line-up right up until kick off on Sunday, it played little bearing on the team, with the Knights securing a rewarding 26-22 win over the North Sydney Bears in Newcastle.
Coach Matt Lantry was forced to juggle significant personnel changes which started when halfback Jaelen Feeney was sidelined late in the week.
“Danny Kerr went to halfback and to throw another spanner in the works, he got injured just before half time,” Lantry said.
“Unless you have a genuine utility on your bench, you always struggle to replace a half.
“Fortunately Tyme Dow-Nikou was on our bench and he made our NSW Cup debut.
"Pat Mata'utia went to five-eighth, Chanel Mata'utia went to centre and Tyme went onto the wing, which is probably anywhere between fullback, centre and wing which are his preferred positions.
“It was a little blessing in disguise. Pat will admit, he’s probably not the best five-eighth, but he did a job defensively."
Additionally, mainstay forward Sam Mataora was touch-and-go a number of times throughout the weekend due to stiffness in his back, but he was cleared at the eleventh hour to play in the front row.
“It was good to get Sam on the park,” he added.
Ben Tupou started at lock and captain Clint Newton moved into the back row.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Luke Yates was named on the reserve grade bench.
“It was a massive effort from him after playing 80 minutes in the Under 20s then to get through 35 minutes with Cup,” he said.
“All-in-all considering the uncertainty in and around our team right up until the warm up and kick-off, it was good to get the win I think. I didn’t matter how we did it.
“I spoke to them about it and said regardless of the outcome, it wouldn’t affect anyone’s individual performance.
“They had prepared well so didn’t have to change anything that they had practiced.
“That was the pleasing thing that it didn’t affect any of the boys.
“That’s part and parcel about being a member of the reserve grade team, that there will be consistent changes.
“I’m happy with how the team handled it.”
Chanel Mata’utia impressed again, this time in the centres scoring a double and displaying the consistent form that awarded him selection in the NSW Cup Representative team the week earlier.
“He played a really good game for us and played some nice and consistent footy the last couple of weeks,” he said.
“He’s put himself in the frame of who we discuss come selection time in the next couple of weeks."
Though a menacing North Sydney Bears side didn’t come without challenges.
“They are a good team and had Jason Clarke drop back from their first grade team. They are a feeder team to the South Sydney Rabbitohs,” he explained.
“He added another dimension to their pack.
“Darryl Millard came back from their first grade team as well and was playing left centre.
"He ended up at fullback there for a period of time and Cody Walker and Matt Hyland made up a quality halves hooker combination there. They threw plenty at us and led 10-4 early in the first half.
“To our guy’s credit, they fought their was back into the game for a 14-10 lead, which was a little bit of a worry in relation to the strong wind behind our backs.
“We only had a four-point buffer going into the breeze, which is when you will struggle for field position.
“We played good disciplined footy in the second half and made the most of the opportunities that we got. We needed to because we were pretty much coming off our own end for most of the time.
“It was a high quality game I think we completed 15 of 17 sets in the first half and they also completed 14 of 14."
The Knights now roll into Sunday’s match against the Wests Tigers riding the high of back-to-back wins and will be searching for more at Hunter Stadium.
“It’s a good opportunity for our boys to be back there with the other two teams,” Lantry said.
“We enjoy being a part of the three game program.”
Newcastle Knights 26 (T: C Mata'utia 2, Mamo, Ross, Fitzgibbon; G: Redman 2, Kerr 1)
North Sydney Bears 22 (T: Walker 3, Olive; G: Nicholls 3/4)
Mamo, Tuha, Ross, P Mata'utia, C Mata'utia, Tuimavave, Kerr, Mataora, Redman, Vaivai, Fitzgibbon, Tupou, Newton. Bench: Filipo, Finn, Dow-Nikou, Yates.