Monday 18 December 2017 / 04:48 AM

SUPER SATURDAY: KNIGHTS, RABBITS & SHARKS OFF THE MARK

KNIGHTS 34 d. TITANS 26 @ McDonald Jones Stadium

The streak is over! After 19 straight matches of anguish, the Newcastle Knights carved out a thrilling win over an injury-ravaged Gold Coast Titans side to kick off Super Saturday.

THE MATCH: The Knights leapt out to 12-0 after fill-in fullback Brendan Elliot and prop Jack Stockwell crossed, but the Titans led 16-12 at the break thanks to tries to Konrad Hurrell – following a freakish piece of in-goal play from Anthony Don – Karl Lawton and debutant winger Tyrone Roberts-Davis.

But Jarryd Hayne and Don succumbed to injuries and failed to return after halftime, while Lawton’s match also ended early.

The Knights struck early in the second stanza through Nathan Ross, before the Titans produced a helter-skelter try-of-the-season contender finished off by Joe Greenwood. Knights rookie Sam Stone tore through for his first NRL try off a Brock Lamb pass as the lead changes continued, but Ashley Taylor’s beautiful chip for Hurrell to bag his second gave the shorthanded visitors a four-point lead with 12 minutes to go.

The Newcastle faithful weren’t to be denied, however, and Peter Mata’utia and Ross scored for the Knights inside the final six minutes as the gallant but weary Titans wilted.

THE MAN: At just 20 years of age and playing in his fifth first-grade game, Brock Lamb looks to be the future of the Newcastle Knights. The young five-eighth came up with two try assists and he looks to be a top-shelf ball-player, but his all-round composure and kicking game was first-rate, while he reeled off 18 tackles in a superb performance.

THE MOMENT: There were plenty of turning points in this seesaw-a-thon – including some insane tries from the Titans – but the most heart-warming moments was Ross’ late sealer, with the relief and ecstasy of breaking a 330-odd day drought palpable on the field, in the stands, the coach’s box and among the ex-players in attendance. It was fitting that Ross put the result to bed – the popular winger embodies the passion and attitude that has carried the club through one of the toughest periods any has endured in the NRL era.

Knights 34 (Nathan Ross 2, Brendan Elliot, Jack Stockwell, Sam Stone, Peter Mata’utia tries; Trent Hodkinson 5 goals) d. Titans 26 (Konrad Hurrell 2, Karl Lawton, Tyrone Roberts-Davis, Joe Greenwood tries; Ashley Taylor 2 goals).

RABBITOHS 38 d. SEA EAGLES 18 @ Lottoland

South Sydney produced a spectacular turnaround from Round 1, streaking away in the final quarter of a tough contest with Manly at Lottoland.

THE MATCH: The Sea Eagles made a blistering start, with Akuila Uate, Brian Kelly and Tom Trbojevic all crossing inside 12 minutes – the latter a magnificent 90-metre effort set up by an Uate break.

All three four-pointers went unconverted, however, and the Rabbitohs took an 18-12 lead into halftime after tries to Robert Jennings, Cody Walker and John Sutton, with Blake Green’s sin-binning contributing to the hosts’ threadbare goal-line D.

Trbojevic set captain Daly Cherry-Evans up for a superb leveller in the 48th minute, but Souths edged in front at the hour-mark via a penalty goal to late addition Adam Reynolds – and the visitors never looked back.

Alex Johnston firmed as the fullback replacement for injured superstar Greg Inglis for the rest of 2017 with a double either side of Robbie Farah’s long-range four-pointer, sealing an emphatic 20-point win for the Bunnies.

Manly’s front-rower shortage told as the big South Sydney pack eventually got on top of their wholehearted opposites.

THE MAN: Farah and Reynolds made outstanding contributions, but five-eighth Cody Walker was the Rabbitohs’ star with a try, three line-breaks and two try-assists. Souths remain a chance in this premiership race if this trio stay fit and firing, while Johnston did enough to suggest he can fill the gaping No.1 hole.

THE MOMENT: The Sea Eagles were getting back on top when Jorge Taufua spilled a bomb right in front of his own posts. Uate grabbed the ball in an offside position, and Reynolds’ resultant goal sparked an avalanche of Rabbitohs points in the last 20 minutes.

Rabbitohs 38 (Alex Johnston 2, Robert Jennings, Cody Walker, John Sutton, Robbie Farah tries; Adam Reynolds 7 goals) d. Sea Eagles 18 (Akuila Uate, Brian Kelly, Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans tries; Dylan Walker 1 goal).

SHARKS 42 d. RAIDERS 16 @ GIO Stadium

The premiers flexed their muscles against hotshots Canberra in the capital, providing a timely reminder that while they may be missing a couple of grand final heroes, there is still an overload of talent and character in the Cronulla squad.

THE MATCH: The Sharks led 12-10 at the end of a physical but scrappy first half, with penalties and completions as much the story of the opening as the two excellent tries scored by each side.

Jack Wighton scythed through for the 15th-minute opener, Ricky Leutele and Wade Graham went back-to-back for the visitors, before a Blake Austin break set up Jordan Rapana for a Raiders reply.

But the second half was all Cronulla. Luke Lewis broke through to send rookie hooker Jayden Brailey over for his maiden NRL try, before Graham completed a hat-trick before the hour-mark as the Sharks kicked away to a 30-10 lead.

Matt Prior and Paul Gallen iced the resounding win in the 70th and 73rd minutes respectively, with a Wighton’s second try two minutes from time pure consolation.

THE MAN: The mix of skill and toughness Wade Graham delivers every week is a big reason why the Sharks’ pack is the best in the NRL. Besides a career-first treble, the ball-playing back-rower came up with a try-assist, 126 metres from 15 carries, and 21 tackles. James Maloney, Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita, Chris Heighington, Gallen and Brailey were also outstanding, while Wighton’s return at fullback was a rare bright spot for the Raiders.

THE MOMENT: Brailey’s try – set up by a brilliant run from the ageless Luke Lewis – kick-started the Sharks’ second-half blitz. Few defending champs have been written off as quickly as this Cronulla side, but no Ennis and Barba means that their plethora of other top-class playmakers and ball-runners now have a chance to take the reins.

Sharks 42 (Wade Graham 3, Ricky Leutele, Jayden Brailey, Matt Prior, Paul Gallen tries; James Maloney 7 goals) d. Raiders 16 (Jack Wighton 2, Jordan Rapana tries; Aidan Sezer 2 goals).

[YouTube – Sports Tube]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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