Knights rise for Alex
A ray of light shone down on the Hunter at the end of one of the blackest weeks in Newcastle’s history, with the Knights powering to emotion-charged 30-0 shutout of Cronulla – the embattled club’s first victory of the season.
The normally reticent, media-shy Wayne Bennett’s poignant tribute to his critically injured backrower Alex McKinnon, who Bennett regards as being like a son, in a newspaper column on Sunday ramped up the overwhelming public response on a day brimming with sentiment.
A bumper home crowd of 18,196 turned out at Hunter Stadium and gave McKinnon, who remains in hospital in Melbourne with a broken neck, a spine-tingling ovation prior to kick-off. The Knights had McKinnon’s club debut number – #232 – emblazoned on their chests, while his No.16 jumper has been retired for the season.
But his shattered teammates produced a sparkling first half display to put the game to bed, running in five tries – including a hat-trick to centre Joseph Leilua – to lead 26-0 at halftime. Halfback Tyrone Roberts scored the only try of a disjointed second stanza, completing a courageous performance from a squad which had every right to not have their minds on the job.
Positive news regarding McKinnon’s condition emerged after the match. It was reported his assisted ventilation has been removed and he can now communicate with his family. A transfer to Sydney may be on the cards in the near future as McKinnon begins the long and arduous rehabilitation process.
Several Knights players will fly to Melbourne tomorrow to visit him.
The tipsters’ nightmare better known as the 2014 NRL premiership went into overdrive during a weekend of round four matches that confounded the pundits and defied the odds-setters. If you picked more than two winners you’re doing well, with five favourites going down in the seven encounters played so far.
There are no unbeaten teams left in the NRL after four weeks of the competition, something the AFL has not been able to boast since 1997.
The carnage started on Friday night with Brisbane subduing ladder leaders St George Illawarra in Wollongong, while under-strength Manly grinded out an 8-0 triumph in the Grand Final rematch with the Sydney Roosters. In-form Penrith and previously unbeaten Melbourne were trounced by a Chris Sandow-inspired Parramatta and injury-hit Canterbury respectively on Saturday, before poor travellers Canberra came to Sydney and emphatically accounted for lacklustre heavyweights Souths 30-18.
For the fourth time in seven seasons, there are no unbeaten teams left in the NRL after four weeks of the competition – a parity to start the year that main competitor the AFL has not been able to boast since 1997. Meanwhile, the hapless Cronulla Sharks are the only side yet to register a win in 2014.
Week to remember for …
The Warriors made an exasperatingly bumbling start against the in-form Wests Tigers, falling behind 12-0 midway through the first half. But two almost identical tries to Glen Fisiiahi, followed by an outrageous long-range four-pointer after the siren, gave the Warriors a 14-12 halftime lead. Their trademark attacking flair had belatedly clicked into gear, and they piled on five second half tries – with Fisiiahi becoming the sixth player in the club’s history to score four in a match – to chalk up a resounding 42-18 victory. It was the Warriors’ first success in seven matches in Wellington, and just their fourth in 19 matches at New Zealand venues other than their Mt Smart base.
Week to forget for …
The Melbourne Storm were unavoidably mired in the tragic Alex McKinnon story all week, while their task against Canterbury on a wet Perth evening was made more difficult when talismanic skipper Cameron Smith pulled out injured just before kick-off. The Storm leapt out to a 10-0 advantage, but were overrun by the previously patchy Bulldogs to the tune of 40-12 – copping a savage spray from coach Craig Bellamy for their troubles.
Play of the week
Willie Tonga’s brilliant 15th-minute intercept at Parramatta Stadium saved a certain try, while his subsequent 80-metre sprint to the try-line put the underdog Eels on the board first and set the tone for a 32-16 boilover against Penrith in the western Sydney derby.
Blunder of the week
The Warriors’ big-money fullback Sam Tomkins took the ball going over the dead-ball line gamble and lost during the first half in Wellington, allowing opposite number James Tedesco to pounce for an opportunist try – leaving the pasty Brit more red-faced than if he had spent a week at Bondi Beach. Incredibly, Manu Vatuvei only avoided the same fate as Tomkins by mere millimetres inside the opening two minutes.
Coming off the bench in his favoured right centre spot after luckless Warriors veteran Jerome Ropati suffered a broken jaw, recently recalled Konrad Hurrell produced arguably his best all-round performance at NRL level. He recorded 10 tackles, three try assists, two line breaks (including the bust to set up the Warriors’ freak try on half-time) and ran for a career-high 182 metres from 13 carries.
With Josh Hoffman playing five-eighth for the Broncos and incumbent Kevin Locke on the injured list, Manly stand-in Peta Hiku is putting his hand up for the New Zealand Test fullback spot for the clash with Australia in a month’s time. Hiku was close to the best afield in a gruelling encounter with the Roosters, showing why Canterbury is so interested in Brett Stewart’s understudy.
Any tips should be made with trepidation after the weekend we’ve seen, but North Queensland are well-placed to buck the trend and become just the third favourites of round four to get up on the Gold Coast. The Titans, impressive winners against Canberra last start, have been disrupted by injuries, while the comparatively settled Cowboys have been thereabouts in narrowly losses in the last fortnight.