Saifiti sent off in ‘shambolic afternoon’ of chaos and carnage but Knights hold on against Tigers
What. Was. That? A send-off, a sin bin, injuries galore, about 100 HIAs and even more “are you kidding me?” moments.
In a game that had to be seen to be believed, the Newcastle Knights have put in a courageous performance to hold on for a gutsy 14-12 win against Wests Tigers on Sunday at Leichhardt.
With tempers already heightened, Knights forward Jabob Saifiti produced a sickening head-high tackle on Tigers utility Jake Simpkin.
Saifiti was deservedly sent off for the final 15 minutes of the game, leaving Newcastle to defend their 14-6 lead with 12 men.
It wasn’t the first time in the game the visitors were down a player after Dom Young was sin-binned for tackling Tigers centre Brett Naden without the ball. Young convinced stand-in captain Jackson Hastings that he didn’t, and what followed was the most ridiculous Captain’s Challenge ever witnessed.
The drama started early, as until the Saifiti tackle, the biggest story of the day was Kalyn Ponga once again being ruled out of the game after a head clash in the opening minute which was followed by yet another failed HIA.
Hooker Jayden Brailey was also ruled out not long after Ponga when a head clash saw him fail an HIA.
The battle of the cellar-dwellers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday was pure chaos mixed in with some carnage, along with a dash of spite, a sprinkle of desperation and a bit of argy-bargy.
Both teams had terrible seasons in 2022 as well as coming off first-round losses and were desperate to avoid being 0-2.
To add to the mix, each side had a player set to face their old club in Jackson Hastings and David Klemmer.
Hastings almost joined Young in the naughty career after collecting Tigers centre Tommy Talau high, but was just placed on report.
Talau joined the failed HIA list and the Tigers clawed their way back to trail 10-6 after backrower Asu Kepaoa crossed the try line not long before halftime.
The carnage continued in the second half when Knights backrower Tyson Frizell was helped off the field with an ankle injury. And of course, young Simpkins left the field after his run-in with Saifiti, but thankfully he was able to walk off the field.
The game was frantic with both sides desperate for the two points. There were errors, dropped balls, knock-ons and missed opportunities. But somewhere in there was a game of exciting football, and the final stages were filled with edge-of-your-seat moments even for the neutral spectator.
This game was always going to have a grandstand finish, and the controversial Stefano Utoikamanu try with a minute left on the clock gave us exactly that. A two-point field goal attempt by Luke Brooks was waived away, and the Knights held on for a 14-12 win.
For a game that many had earlier rolled their eyes at, it had everything.
There is a real Ponga problem
This poor bugger cannot take a trick.
Ponga lasted less than a minute before coming off the field following a head clash. He failed yet another HIA, and suffered yet another concussion, after missing the end of the last season after suffering three concussions in just six weeks
The move from fullback to five-eighth will only expose Ponga to more contact and having to make more defensive decisions that will continue to prove costly if he gets them wrong.
Player welfare as well as the long-term effects of head knocks and concussions have taken centre stage recently, with more awareness and stricter protocols. We’ve seen players over recent years put their health and futures first, and hang up the boots including Roosters duo Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend.
Ponga is well and truly under the microscope.
Was that the worst Captain’s Challenge we have ever seen?
Just when we thought we had seen some desperate and crazy Captain’s Challenges, this one may have just skyrocketed to the lead.
Even someone at the Tim Tszyu fight who was nowhere near this game could see Young had tackled Naden without the ball.
“There have been some bad captain’s challenges, but that takes the cake,” said Fox League commentator Cooper Cronk.
“That was a blatant professional foul.”
Twal denied maiden try
OH MY GOD! He was over the try line!
As we all know, Alex Twal is desperately searching for his first-ever four-pointer. He has played 102 NRL games over six seasons with the Tigers without having scored a single try.
The crowd all rose to their feet and the confetti was almost released over the Leichhardt faithful when it looked like today the bench backrower had finally scored after he stormed over the try line.
But the bunker picked up a bobbled ball before the grounding and NO TRY was flashed on the big screen.
Today was not the day. But it was a day closer until it is.