The forgotten man of Origin, Knights flyer Akuila Uate, scored a hat-trick and broke a club record in vain on Sunday as Newcastle lost their sixth straight game, 23-20 to Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium.
The former NSW and Australian winger, who has not been mentioned as a possible replacement for injured Blues star Brett Morris, scored in the 15th, 52nd and 77th minutes to pass Timana Tahu as Newcastle’s all-time leading tryscorer. He now has 93 tries from 123 career games. But it was all for nothing as the Knights slumped to their 10th defeat in 12 games to remain equal last with Cronulla.
The Tigers climbed from eighth to fifth after banking two hard-earned points. Running with a stiff southerly at their back, the Knights fought back from an early 8-0 deficit to lead 10-8 at half-time. The home side profited from a contentious video referee decision in the 26th minute when Braith Anasta flew high to catch a Jarrod Mullen bomb but crashed awkwardly into the turf.
The ball jolted free and was grounded by Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts. After inspecting repeated replays, video referees Steve Chiddy and Luke Phillips ruled Anasta did not have control of the ball and awarded the try. Roberts converted from close range to put the Knights in the lead for the first time. The Tigers had opened the scoring in the sixth minute when fullback James Tedesco stepped his way through flimsy defence.
Another winger who would not be out of place in the sky-blue, Pat Richards, converted and added a penalty goal four minutes later. The Knights hit back in the 15th minute when they swung the ball to the left edge and fullback Darius Boyd threw a cut-out pass to Uate, who crashed over in the corner to equal Tahu’s club record of 91 tries. It was also Uate’s 50th try on home turf. Minus Anasta, who was taken off for a concussion test, the Tigers regained the ascendancy four minutes after the break when halfback Luke Brooks darted down the blind side and sent Richards over untouched. Richards converted his own try to make it 14-10 to the visitors. The Knights wrested back the advantage eight minutes later when Boyd orchestrated a long raid, then on the next play they swung it to Uate, who crossed for his club-milestone try.
Roberts’s conversion made it 16-14 and brought the crowd of to life.
But the match turned on its head in the 65th minute when Brooks produced a 40-20 touch-finder. As the Tigers scrambled to take a quick tap, Knights skipper Kurt Gidley collided with his opposite number, Robbie Farah. Gidley was immediately sin-binned for a professional foul and Richards landed a penalty goal to equalise.
Two minutes later, after a crazy passage of play, Richards snapped a field goal from 30 metres out to put the Tigers in front. The Tigers advanced to 23-16 in the 69th minute when centre Chris Lawrence scored and Richards kicked his fifth goal from as many attempts. Uate kept the game alive in the 77th minute with his third try, a runaway effort in the corner. The Knights opted not to take the conversion attempt. The Knights will be concerned about two high shots that resulted in prop Kade Snowden being placed on report.
Snowden struck Curtis Sironen in the 33rd minute with a swinging arm, leaving the Tigers substitute dazed and down for treatment before he was helped from the field. He was also reported for a swinging arm that struck Bodene Thompson in the head in the 68th minute. Snowden will be sweating on the match-review panel’s assessment of the incidents, given that he was found guilty of three high-contact offences last seasons, including his seven-match suspension for breaking North Queensland hooker Ray Thompson’s jaw.
Tigers forward Martin Taupau was also reported for a swinging arm that sparked a brief melee.