The Screaming Jets booming out of the PA speakers, Joey Johns commentating, the stands full of a red and blue patchwork and the Knights run onto the ground to a roaring cheer – does it get any more Newcastle than that?
As soon as the Knights hit the field the NEWCASTLE chant goes up and it’s on.
Here is a minute-by-minute rundown of the key moments of a brutal game . . .
6th minute: A brilliant string of passes to the left, including a deftly beautiful ball from centre Bradman Best sees powerhouse winger Greg Marzhew score the opening try. Fullback Kalyn Ponga’s conversion is sublime.
Score: Knights 6 – 0
14th minute: The Raiders’ prop Ata Mariota manages to get over the line but the Bunker rules he has his fingers under the ball – no try. Knights’ fans roar their approval.
19th minute: After a dropped ball by Knights’ centre Dane Gagai (c’mon Gags), Raiders’ winger James Schiller scores in the left corner. Halfback Jamal Fogarty converts.
Score: 6 – 6
30th minute: The Knights’ Greg Marzhew breaks free from the pack and sprints downfield before being finally run down by the Raiders. The next play sees the ball spun right and, after some quick passing, Gagai leaps into the corner to score but, wait for it, Gagai drops the ball at the last second (c’mon Gags) and the try is disallowed. A missed opportunity and, so far, Gags is having a shocker.
32nd minute: After the Knights decide to do a short drop out from their line, Raiders bench player Trey Mooney crosses for a try. Again, there’s conjecture about fingers being under the ball but the Bunker confirms the try and, despite Fogarty missing the conversion, the Raiders take the lead for the first time.
Score: Raiders 10 – 6
38th minute: Experiencing a terrible run of luck, Knights’ halfback Jackson Hastings goes down with an injury to the ankle that saw him miss the last game. His game and possibly his season is over.
39th minute: After the Raiders’ State of Origin centre Jack Wighton engages the Knights’ Dominic Young enough to lure him off his wing, James Schiller crosses for his second try of the day.
Score: Raiders 16 – 6 (Half-time)
As the Knights start the 2nd half, the mood in the crowd is a bit more sombre. Will the boys fight back the way our teams of the past have when playing at home? Or do the Raiders have their number? It seemed to be in the Raiders favour until . . .
46th minute: Knights five-eighth Tyson Gamble emerges from a tackle and controversially claims that he has been bitten by Jack Wighton. Clearly showing teeth marks on his forearm, Gamble protests to the referee while vision is examined by the bunker and the ref. It could go either way, with Wighton arguing that it was the pressure of Gamble’s shoulder on the back of Wighton’s head that forced his teeth into the arm. The ref decided to place the incident on report but there was no penalty. The Knights are fired up and Wighton is right in their sights after ‘chopper-gate’ – now it’s on!
48th minute: Showing their displeasure at having Wighton’s laughing gear wrapped around Gamble’s arm, the Knights charge downfield. Knights’ backrower Lachie Fitzgibbon delivers a beautiful pass to Kurt Mann who shifts the ball on to Ponga to cross the line. Ponga converts. The Knights mean business.
Score: Raiders 16 – 12
54th minute: In a midfield attacking raid on the right of the field, Gamble delivers a lovely pass to Ponga whose speed gets him around Jack Wighton before shifting the ball to fan favourite winger Dom Young to fend of Jordan Rapana’s desperate efforts to score. Ponga converts and the Knights are back in front. The crowd are boing ballistic.
Score: Knights 18 – 16
57th minute: It’s almost a case of déjà vu as the Knights span out to the right again. Gamble delivers the pass to Ponga who quickly gets it to Dom Young who races up the sideline before passing it back inside to Gagai wo, low and behold, manages to keep the ball secure and crosses the line for a four-pointer. Ponga’s conversion hits the upright. The crowd groan in disappointment but they’re on the edge of their seats. The Knights are firing.
Score: Knights 22 – 16
63rd minute: The Raiders are on the attack, heading left. Five-eighth Matt Frawley kicks high. Raiders’ backrower Hudson Young leaps into the air and swats the ball back, for it only to be picked up by Tyson Gamble for the Knights. Gamble shoots the ball on to flyer Dom Young who outpaces Raiders’ fullback Jordan Rapana to score. Ponga converts and the crowd is elated and showing it in volume.
Score: Knights 28 – 16
66th minute: Off the bench, the Raiders Tom Starling wrongfoots Gamble to cross the line. Fogarty converts and the Raiders come back is getting’ real.
Score: Knights 28 – 22
71st minute: A close call with the Raiders on the attack. A high ball from Fogarty lands over the Knight’s goal line and there are contenders aplenty to score but, just in time, Dom Young taps the ball over the dead ball line. The Knights are hanging on as the clock winds down. The Raiders aren’t going to give up though and, with the clock counting down, the crowd are chanting as the Raiders once again are on the attack.
77th minute: In the dying moments of the game, the hearts of thousand of Knights supporters are crushed as Raiders’ prop Joseph Tapine passes to captain Elliott Whitehead who then shifts it to Tom Starling to cross for his second try. Fogarty converts and with a just over a minute to go, the scores are level.
Score: 28 – 28
79th minute: The Raiders are on the attack, setting up for a final match-winning field goal. The ball is delivered back and the shot is taken, only to be gallantly charged down by Gamble. The epic battle is set to continue into extra time as the full-time siren sounds.
The rules for finals dictate that the teams will play two five-minute halves. If they remain equal after that, it is golden point. So, the crowd is at fever pitch supporting their red and blue heroes as both teams, fighting exhaustion, prepare to go at it once again.
84th minute: The Raiders fight their way into an attacking position, ready to take the lead with a field goal. Fogarty gets in position, takes the shot but, once again the gallant Gamble charges it down.
88th minute: The Knights re on the attack. Ponga is at the back of the ruck ready to pop the winning field goal over but there is confusion. The dummy half initially can’t find Pongs but, by the time he does, the Raiders defence are in his face. Ponga has no time for the field goal, so steps to his right and runs. As he is tackled, the not-so-popular jack Wighton delivers a head-high shot on Ponga who goes down. The crowd call for punishment and the Knights get a penalty. After being tested for concussion by the trainer, Ponga proceeds to take the penalty goal and it goes over the crossbar sweetly.
Final Score: Knights 30 – 28
As the final siren sounds, the crowd are celebrating a courageous and well-deserved win by their hometown heroes. The ‘NEWCASTLE’ chant reigns supreme and everyone is elated with the result of one of the greatest finals game s of all time.
It was brutal, fast-paced and gripping. The Raiders were aggressively trying to put the Knights off their game and, in the first half, they succeeded. But, after the biting incident in the second half, the fired-up Knights resurged and took back control. It’s was a mighty battle for the ages. The Knights are going to have some work to do before they play the Warriors next week in New Zealand. No doubt, the red and blue army will be behind them all the way. Get to it boys.