Too good: The Tigers werenever in the game. Photo: Peter Stoop Hat-trick hero: Akuila Uate. Photo: Max Mason Hubers
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Mick Potter’s debut could have been worse, but he might wake in the morning wondering how. A tough prospect it might have been, to recover from the tumultuous events of last week – when the club farewelled a teammate – but that said, he would have been expecting more than that. What his team offered this mismatch was a mishmash.
What their opponents offered was a slick performance, a contrast to many of last season’s efforts by Newcastle, who saw fullback Darius Boyd turn in the sort of game which helped his coach Wayne Bennett to a premiership at St George Illawarra. Five-eighth Jarrod Mullen, who left the field with an arm injury late in the contest, was even more busy, winger Akuila Uate happily accepted gifts while the Knights will clearly benefit from having halfback Kurt Gidley buzzing and weaving.
It was a torrid night for the Tigers. They began well but faded well before even the half-time break. Hooker Robbie Farah had put lock Adam Blair over after just six minutes, giving the forward a confidence-kick after his disappointing 2012, yet by the 10th minute, when Boyd’s long ball sent winger James McManus over, the Tigers were showing some worrying signs.
Players were being run around in circles and falling off tackles. That was particularly evident when Uate brushed off Tigers backrower Braith Anasta and skipped downfield, handing the ball off to a teammate before racing back to his right wing and accepting centre Dane Gagai’s ball for the try.
Gagai was something else, looking every bit a player worth a gamble on. He had some fortune for his two tries in the first half, but still showed superb footwork and speed as well; first he batted five-eighth Jarrod Mullen’s bounced pass to find a gap and then picked up Matt Bell’s ill-advised ball to race 40 metres to score.
It was business as usual in the second half. The only difference from the first half was that the Knights scored first, Uate bulldozing through Bell and fullback Tim Moltzen to score – it came a minute after Boyd intervened in a Tigers attack superbly. After Farah found space, Boyd guessed correctly that the hooker would pass rather than dummy, and promptly smashed Moltzen. Uate scored his third from dummy half just a few minutes later, and the Knights were well on their way to a rout.
After 55 minutes, they achieved it; McManus leapt high above the vertically-inferior winger Matt Utai to score from a Mullen kick. It was a complete mismatch. It followed the theme of the contest.
Emotion can only get you so far. The Tigers had worn special jumpers which read “Mosese Fotuaika, 1992-2013, 155”, and stood in a circle with arms wrapped around each other as both teams observed a minute’s silence prior to kick-off. Thankfully, officials saw fit to observe the full minute’s silence, rather than the shortened moment’s silence, which is the trend of late.
Yet it was always going to be difficult for the Tigers to farewell their friend on a Thursday, and play in their opening-round clash on the following Monday. And so Potter’s first outing with his new club, his first in the NRL, would be a disappointment. Not quite a disaster but not far away. He joins his fellow NRL debutant Trent Robinson as a first-up loser.
It was a hard ask for Potter, given the disrupted preparation, and of course that the man in the other box was Wayne Bennett. Bennett took St George Illawarra to a title in his second season with that club. It will take some effort to knock off the likes of Melbourne, North Queensland and South Sydney, but the Knights’ first effort shows they might be big improvers.
NEWCASTLE 42 (A Uate 3 D Gagai 2 J McManus 2 tries K Gidley 7 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 10 (A Blair T Moltzen tries B Marshall goal) at Hunter Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 21,935
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.