Newcastle pulled off a massive upset on the weekend, with the wooden spooners beating preliminary-finalists Canberra 44-0 at Seiffert Oval, their first win in nine months.
Newcastle carried a strong squad into the match, while Canberra were missing Jarrod Croker, Joseph Leilua, Jordan Rapana and a handful of others. Despite the uneven squads, a 44-0 nil is a testament that the Knights won’t be a team easily beaten in 2017.
Newcastle really struggled to score points last year, managing only 12 points a game, the worst attack in the competition. And at the same time, the Knights were conceding nearly 34 points every match, the worst defence in the NRL.
Yet somehow on Saturday night, Newcastle scored eight tries, and unbelievably kept a side featuring Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer and Josh Hodgson, to nil. NIL. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Sure it’s a trial match, but it’s a big sign of what’s to come for the red and blue this year.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, I wouldn’t be too down if I were a Canberra fan right now. You were missing the best centre duo in the comp, as well as the NRL’s leading try-scorer. Canberra lacked the strike that saw them roar to second spot on the ladder last year, but at the same time, they didn’t score a single point. Did they overachieve in 2016?
The Knights showed fans what to expect this year, as Brock Lamb impressed in Jarrod Mullen’s absence, and recruits Ken Sio and Jamie Buhrer picked up tries for their new club. Rory Kostjasyn missed the match as remains sidelined with a throat injury, but Knight’s fans worry not, with Danny Levi’s running game keeping Newcastle on the front foot throughout the contest.
Nathan Brown looks to have made the right call in moving Sione Mata’utia into the forward pack, the former Kangaroo’s work rate a testament to his move to the back-row. Sione scored a pearler of a try, Hodkinson putting him through a hole to score. He wasn’t the only Mata’utia to score, however, with brothers Chanel and Peter crossing for meat pies of their own.
Canberra’s defence appeared flakier than a bakery at times, and that’s what should have Canberra fans worried. Canberra had the best attack in the competition last year, but their defensive game wasn’t exactly red hot. The green machine let in over three converted tries per game, a worrying stat. So for the worst attacking team in recent memory to score nearly a half-century, no matter the squad, should have fans worried.
Look, let’s be honest, Newcastle isn't going to win the comp in 2017. As blunt as it sounds, to win back-to-back wooden spoons and make the top eight is as rare as hen’s teeth, let alone a premiership. It’ll be a few years until they get themselves into that position. But this is a fantastic sign for the club and ensures supporters the worst is behind them.
As for the Canberra Raiders, we’ll have to wait to see how they fare against North Queensland in a few days time to judge how the loss really affects them, and if they can back up their strong 2016 season. But if you were to make an assumption off their most recent trial, the signs aren’t good.