The Newcastle Knights were beaten 30-18 by the St George Illawarra Dragons at Hunter Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
While the red and blues struggled to contain the away side in the first half, the second stanza saw a marked improvement with two great team tries to Sione Mata’utia and Mitch Barnett.
There were several late positional changes, and the Knights didn’t have the best start to the game with Kalifa Faifai Loa scoring for the Dragons on the wing in the third minute.
The Knights threatened the Dragons’ try-line eight minutes later with Danny Levi teasing out wide, but the Red V held firm in defence and swiftly transitioned to attack soon after with back rower Jacob Host getting his first NRL try.
With the score at 10-0 and only ten minutes played, it was looking dire for the Knights. A dropped ball from Mitch Barnett on the halfway line only compounded the Novocastrians’ woes, and in the following set the Dragons scored again, this time via centre Euan Aitken.
A somewhat fortuitous series of events saw the Knights score their first try ten minutes from half time, and it was a spectacular four-pointer at that.
From deep in his own half Jack Cogger made a kick that was shut down by Tyson Frizell. Barnett picked up the pill and showed a deceptive burst of pace to make 60 metres, which several plays later allowed Nathan Ross to acrobatically vault his way over the line and score in the corner.
While the Knights were on a high following Ross’ gutsy display, just minutes later a Dragons’ offload in the middle third started a chain reaction. The side swiftly spread the ball out left leaving the Knights short on the edge. This allowed Dragons winger Tim Lafai to step inside his defender and ground a try. Widdop’s kick sailed wide to keep the score at 18-6.
Soon after a dummy from Benji Marshall permitted the halfback to slip through the Knights’ defensive line and sprint 20 metres to score just before the half time siren.
Five minutes into the second half a dummy from Joel Thompson allowed him to pile on even more points for the Saints, and Widdop converted to push the score to 28-6.
14 minutes from time the returning Robbie Rochow came up with a great offload 15 metres out, sending Dane Gagai on his way to place a grubber for birthday boy Sione Mata’utia to score. Hodkinson did well to convert from out wide, and then seven minutes later the Knights struck again.
This time it was Barnett who got over the line, the back rower doing well to collect a pass going behind him and then spinning out of a tackle to burrow over the line. Hodkinson converted to mark 500 career points and push the score to 28-18.
While the Knights continued to push for more, the Dragons scored a penalty goal late on to make the final score 30-18.
Newcastle Knights 18 (T: Ross, S Mata’utia, Barnett, G: Hodkinson 3/3)
St George Illawarra Dragons 30 (T: Faifai Loa, Host, Aitken, Lafai, Marshall, Thompson, G: Widdop 2/6, P: 1)