It’s hard to know whether Round 2 or Round 3 has been more agonising to the Knights. Losing to Souths by such a huge margin was one thing, but going to the end of Golden Point for the second time in three years at Hunter Stadium is another, especially since this also felt like the game that should have signalled Newcastle’s comeback. In fact, it’s hard to think they could have come up with anything other than a comeback after last week’s performance – it’s hard to imagine losing by less – and yet the Golden Point fiasco meant that they haven’t really got closure either, with Trent Hodkinson attempting three goals in the last ten minutes, and Jarrod Mullen attempting a field goal right on the final siren, but neither able to break through the Raiders’ defence.
It was a bittersweet experience, then, for Mullen’s 200th game, although this may also be the season in which he starts to return to the promise of that early, fleeting Origin appearance. Over the last couple of years, he hasn’t reached his potential, and had a very inconsistent run in 2015 thanks to a toe injury. Nevertheless, something about Hodkinson’s presence seems to have inspired his discipline and focus as half, as evinced in a beautiful offload to Sione Matu’utia in the 39th minute who passed to winger Corey Denniss for his first try for the Knights. While Newcastle have been applauded for bringing fresh blood into the game this year – Denniss was outstanding, as were Matu’utia and Jake Safiti on the right edge – it’s worth remembering that Mullen is still needed to lay the foundation, focus and discipline for the Knights as a whole.
Still, things weren’t all bad for the Knights. While Hodkinson might have attempted three field goals, so did Sam Williams, and it was a testament to Newcastle’s defence that the ball never got through for the Raiders either. At the same time, the Knights’ efforts to include a bit of fresh blood in the team seems likely to reap dividends, with Denniss putting in an amazing performance after only two games in the Holden Cup and Matu’utia and Swift putting in a sturdy effort on the right edge. With Mullen responsible for three quarters of Newcastle’s tries, there was the kind of balance between veterans and young guns that can sometimes signal a team getting back on its feet. What the Knights need now is discipline – conceding eight penalties in the first half is sloppy – and a cleaner, tighter plan for using their assets for maximum impact.
For all that the Knights were clearly up from last weekend, nobody could deny that the Raiders were dominant. Jarrod Croker, in particular, was impressive, converting a try from Brenko Lee at the 76th minute and giving Elliott Whitehead plenty of room to manoeuvre at five-eighth, a transition that certainly worked in Canberra’s favour. At the same time, Croker’s decision to kick a penalty goal in the 57th minute was arguably what got the game to Golden Point in the first place, and while Croker attempted another penalty goal later on, it was too late by that point. Still, nothing is predictable when it comes to Golden Point, especially a tied Golden Point, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Raiders and the Knights attempt to break the deadlock this coming round.