Best possible timing: Bradman’s perfect Origin audition sees Knights past Tigers as Bateman and To’a go off


Newcastle have scrapped their way to a third consecutive win, downing an embattled Wests Tigers side 20-14 in the driving rain in Tamworth thanks to a monster performance from prospective NSW rep Bradman Best.

The incumbent Blues centre made a timely contribution with Origin spots up for grabs, scoring twice and setting up another for fullback David Armstrong on top of four line breaks and over 200 metres.

He was aided by both of his direct opponents going off injured: Starford To’a pulled a hamstring early on, forcing John Bateman to the centre, but he failed to come out for the second half with a pec injury.

The Knights didn’t get out unscathed. Tyson Gamble left in a moon boot with a suspected foot injury and Daniel Saifiti will have a nervous morning tomorrow after a late high shot saw him binned.

The Tigers have now lost six straight, turning a promising start into a familiar feeling of disappointment.

Benji Marshall will again look at a performance that was heavy on guts and showed some flashes of good play – not least when Jahream Bula was on the ball – but again was undermined by defensive lapses that made life far too easy for the Knights.

The Knights go the distance! ????‍????#NRLTigersKnights @Telstra Moment of the Match

— NRL (@NRL) May 11, 2024

The Knights’ attack is still miles off

Newcastle huffed and puffed through the first half, consistently failing to turn huge advantages in field position and possession into points.

At one point the Knights had 17 straight tackles on the Tigers line but barely fired a shot in attack, playing aimlessly from side to side and sometimes not even getting that far, with forwards caught in possession midway through a shift.

Though there was some mitigation because of the conditions, which precluded playing too close to the sidelines, at no point did they try to bring Best or Dane Gagai on the crash line against the grain or either backrower on top of a half.

Bud Sullivan, for example, is a noted defensive weakness for Wests but was rarely asked to make a tough tackle. Kai Pearce-Paul, who can be so destructive, spent the entire first half on the bench.

It was doubly confusing because when they did chance their arm, the results followed.

Armstrong exposed a slow edge to get Greg Marzhew over and Gagai clipped a kick in behind the Tigers late on for Enari Tuala, a rare piece of improvised footy in a half without much of it.

Papali’i with strength! ????#NRLTigersKnights

— NRL (@NRL) May 11, 2024

The kicking, too, was highly conservative.

Much as there is benefit from making your opponent run it out of the corners, Newcastle took that to extremes with a succession of aimless midfield bombs that were neither contested nor intended to gain territory.

Given how the result panned out, O’Brien can point to the two points and go home happy.

But the circumstances worked in his side’s favour heavily – a poor opponent who then lost a centre, twice – and against better teams, things will turn out differently

Holding a 90% completion rate through an hour of footy is all well and good if you’re doing something with the ball, but if it’s because you’re completing for completing’s sake, it’s pointless.

Same old Tigers

The Tigers are stuck in an all too familiar loop. There are good things about this footy team, not least their young players, but they come with such inconsistency that they never amount to much.

Playing multiple teenagers will always impact consistency, and that’s basically fine to get the young blokes on the field and learning in first grade. It’ll serve them well in the long run.

The older guys, however, have to do better.

Charlie Staines’ defensive lapse gifted four points to the Knights from a long ranger, and it’s not the first time that such a try has been scored against the Tigers this year. It was a simple counting error, compounded by a poor defensive decision.

Jahream Bula lighting up Tamworth! ????#NRLTigersKnights

— NRL (@NRL) May 11, 2024

Bula’s sin bin was understandable, but compounding it by burning a challenge wasn’t his call and someone more senior should have stepped in.

In attack, the balance between control and changing their arm was too far one way in the first half and then too far the other in the second.

This might be the sign of a team still working out what it is.

The 17 they field week-to-week is one of the weakest in the league and perhaps it is just that these things will happen until that significantly improves.

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