Knights defeated by red hot Dragons

The nib Newcastle Knights went down to the ladder leading St George Illawarra Dragons 30-12 at WIN Stadium on Easter Sunday to retain the Alex McKinnon Cup.

While the Knights opened the scoring, some heavy hits by the Dragons saw mistakes creep in from Newcastle in the first 40 minutes and in the second stanza the home side continued to exploit space out wide to bring home an 18-point win.

An early penalty to the Knights played to their advantage as Kalyn Ponga side stepped through a gap in the Dragons defensive pack and offloaded it to centre Tautau Moga, who charged over the line just three minutes in.

Ponga converted his own try for the Knights to take an early lead 6-0.

An awkward landing saw Moga carted from the field though, which saw Buhrer switch to the centres and Chris Heighington come on in his place.

The Knights were in trouble as the Dragons had a three-on-one situation on the left side as they sprinted to the line, but luckily for Newcastle, it was a Dragons knock on and they regained possession.

12 minutes in the home side snagged their first points with a well-executed set finished by Tariq Sims, who backed his way across the line. Gareth Widdop added the extras to level the scores, 6-all.

The red and blue were caught napping as the ball was dragged out wide to see winger Nene Macdonald weave his way to the line. Widdop nailed the conversion to see the Saints lead 12-6 after 18 minutes.

Mitch Barnett was crunched by Dragons big man Paul Vaughan which forced another dropped ball, before the Dragons halves turned it on to see the ball through the hands of Matt Dufty and Euan Aitken who was all alone on the right edge.

He glided over for the home side’s third try before Widdop kicked three from three to stretch their lead, 18-6.

A dropped ball on the line gifted the Knights a new set and a precision pass by Mitchell Pearce guided veteran forward Chris Heighington to the line in the 29th minute.

Ponga made no mistake on the kick to see the Knights stage their comeback and trail 12-18 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

A penalty down the Dragons' end saw Widdop decide to take the kick. It was then a 20-12 ball game to the Dragons.

Ponga dropped a swirling high kick under pressure and while the Dragons again had their chance to score, the teenager was there to mop up a grubber and get the ball back in to Knights hands.

Quickly running out of outside backs, Nathan Ross was taken from the field minutes before the halftime siren with for an HIA, which forced Aidan Guerra into the centres. The Dragons went into the break 20-12 in front.

In the second half Ross was back, and the Knights got several chances near the line but couldn’t make anything of it.

The visitors had to work overtime defending their line and finally the Dragons broke through as Leeson Ah Mau muscled his way to the line, 62 minutes in. Widdop converted to put them into a comfortable 26-12 lead.

67 minutes in, a clever kick by Ben Hunt was perfectly placed for Macdonald on the left corner. He dived over to ground the ball in goal and see the Dragons extend their lead, 30-12.

Another high tackle by Jamie Buhrer 10 metres out saw a penalty roll the Dragons way but they couldn’t finish it off, although no luck down the other end as the Knights pushed it out wide to see Ross drop the ball near the line.

Widdop continued to be damaging with the boot and forced repeat sets to again put the Knights on the back foot but a scoreless 10 minutes saw the Dragons grind it out until the end, to defeat the Knights 30-12.

Summary

Knights 12 (T: Ponga, Heighington G: Ponga 2/2)
Dragons 30 (T: Sims, Macdonald 2, Aiken, Ah Mau G: Widdop 4/5 PG: Widdop 1/1)