If coach Nathan Brown’s comments post-game are anything to go by, he had a lot invested in the last-start win over the Broncos and, it seemed, his predecessor, Wayne Bennett.
The step up in class needed to win from both camps naturally had everyone on edge in a big night at the stadium. Glad the caravan has moved on.
On the field, for the Knights, I’m told defensive energy was the catchcry pre-game. A challenge nicely delivered on, conceding only 10 points against a nominal gold standard of 14 per game. In the process, repelling no fewer than seven drop-out sets. All good signs.
The quality of the start can’t be understated, virtually setting up camp for much of the first 15 minutes in the Broncos’ half. Thereafter the task of building on that platform was less of a burden, so long as they continued to complete their sets. Which they did to the tune of better than 80 per cent. Enough in the end to hold off the fast-finishing Queenslanders.
Evident in the demeanour of the Knights was a level of enthusiasm enough to drive a fast-moving defensive line, which stayed desperate for most of the match.
None better in this regard than the captains of the “speed of the line” Mitch Barnett, Slade Griffin, and fresh reserves Danny Levi and old man Heighno, when they’re on. Time and again, the Knights claimed their “real estate”, cut down their opposition’s thinking time and with surprising regularity, drove ball-runners back for good measure: “Get off my property”. Top notch. Now, that’s the blueprint.
Instrumental as the universal joint connecting the power to the finesse again was skipper Mitch Pearce. Equally in his element deftly kicking the team into advantageous field position as he is sprinting off the line to belt a forward, or chasing from marker to thwart a kicker, he’s a winner who leads by example and got the team home, again. Happy birthday skipper!
A masterclass lesson in how to put runners through holes was a feature of Kalyn Ponga’s play last week.
Particularly difficult to handle running to his left, he turned Brisbane halfback Kodi Nikorima inside out on three occasions in the first half. Each time conditioning Nikorima to pick an option (ie take KP or his runner). Each has its risks with a player of Ponga’s speed, movement and sleight of hand.
The first occasion, Nikorima chose Ponga, who passed, leaving Lachlan Fitzgibbon free to sail downfield. The next, he guessed right to foil Ponga on the line, when Fitzgibbon was hot. With 10 minutes to go in the first half, Ponga skipped to the inside of the bewildered halfback, before passing to ever-faithful Fitzgibbon who careered to the line for another try. Fantastic stuff, methodical yet unpredictable.
On form, Ponga should be the third or fourth bloke picked for Queensland, but maybe that’s too much too soon. Plenty of time.
With all of the above said, that was last week. History. This week it’s deadly serious. On Friday we get a crack at the premiers. No doubt a little rattled at the minute, one should however beware the wounded beast in Melbourne.
But these guys are beatable and I suspect coach Craig Bellamy knows it. Evidence of that, and no doubt to the disappointment of Fitzgibbon and Ponga, is that rookie half Brodie Croft has paid for recent poor defensive form and been dropped. Not that Bellamy had any choice. It seems he plays in the same defensive position as Nikorima.
Other than that, they remain an excellent football team desperate to atone. For the visitors, nothing short of the same intent and enthusiasm as last week will suffice against the premiers. If our boys can replicate, there will be plenty to celebrate.
Knights by three.
* WHAT do powerhouse clubs like the Storm, Sharks, Cowboys, Bunnies and Broncos have in common, apart from recent premierships, finals experience and high expectations for 2018?
They all find themselves sitting outside the top eight with 20-odd per cent of the available 52 competition points allocated. With 42 points remaining, and a cut-off at say, 30, it should be like shelling peas for these guys to shake off the rust, string a series of wins together and reinstate the pecking order in time.
But It appears a power shift is occurring that has caught the whales by surprise.
At round six, the high-flying 2015 premiers and 2017 beaten grand finalists, North Queensland, find themselves as Exhibit A. Were they to remain winless for say, three more games, their condition would quickly become dire.
In that scenario, including their solitary victory there would be 16 games (and two byes = 36) from which to claim 28 more competition points.
That’s 12 wins from 16 outings at 75 per cent. By comparison, last year’s second-placed Roosters notched a win return of a tick over 70 per cent.
It may only be early days in a marathon tournament that always throws up twists and turns, but mathematically at least four clubs, including the Cowboys, are facing imminent irrelevance in the next few weeks unless they lean to the positive and find something more.
* STAR of the week goes to the indomitable local, Kurt Fearnley, OAM. Ambassador for the Comm Games and all-round champion on so many levels, his swansong on the 1500-metre track this week was vintage Fearnley.
Pushing drive for drive, until he near burst in that final 300m, reporting pulse rates approaching 200, the supremely conditioned 37-year-old was denied gold by a mere 0.17 of a second.
He gave it all and could give no more. Like I said, vintage.
Now, for a bloke for whom there ain’t no mountain high enough, it may be trite to say his final international challenge on Sunday may be his biggest.
Maybe not the biggest, but right here and now, in front of family and countrymen, the laser-focused Fearnley won’t be leaving anything in the tank to put that final exclamation mark on a brilliant racing career.
Get up early for Sunday’s 6:10am start. Newy’s with you, Kurt!
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