1 Newcastle perform like a top four team
Newcastle outmuscled, outhustled and out-enthused a Parramatta team who entered the game with a lot to play for. You could have been forgiven for thinking the Eels were the team in a wooden spoon dog fight and that it was Newcastle who had top four aspirations.
The Knights were poised and ready to upset their more fancied rivals despite there being very little expectation of them doing so. The Knights completed their first seven sets of the game and moved 12-0 ahead while the Eels were completed two sets in the same period.
Despite surrendering much of their ascendancy in the back end of the first half, Newcastle quickly snuffed out the Eels' hopes early in the second stanza. The Knights were prepared for an arm wrestle but had little in opposition.
Parramatta continued to fluff their lines while Newcastle relentlessly probed. The weight of possession finally proved too much and the Knights put the Eels to the sword with three tries in 13 minutes, extending their lead to 28-10.
Newcastle's complete control of the game was evident in their metres gained numbers. They've averaged the lowest metres gained in the competition but have been able to produce season best numbers of 1495 and 1381 metres in their victories over the Warriors and Dragons.
With 12 minutes to play and an opponent out on their feet, the final result could have been more convincing but the Knights professionally closed out the game. A 78th minute Brock Lamb field goal was the exclamation mark on a most dominant of nights for him and his team.
2 Parramatta are not a top four team
We don't want to get too far ahead, it's really important, with how tight the competition is, that we do win tonight. If we do consider ourselves to be a threat in the Semi Finals, we need to win tonight. It's a must win game for us. Brad Arthur - Pre-game on Fox League
Brad Arthur said that the Newcastle game was must-win for his side in the race for the top four but you wouldn't have guessed it from their showing.
The Eels failed to enter the arm wrestle for possession and territory. The retention of the ball, or lack of it, was criminal as they ended the game with a competition rate of 64%. That created a mountain of work in defence, where they completed nearly 40% more tackles than the Knights.
In this ultimately futile rear guard action, there were a number of brave efforts. Lion-hearted Nathan Brown completed 57 tackles to go along with his 133 metres gained. Cameron King made a whopping 58 tackles while Daniel Alvaro also brought up a half-century of tackles in only 54 minutes..
Newcastle were tremendous but the Eels didn't turn up. With the stakes on offer for victory, it was an incredibly disappointing performance. It was a game that Parramatta simply had to win. The fact that they were unable to gain the points suggests that, despite their improvements in 2017, they are not yet a top four team.
3 Lamb shank no more
After the Knights suffered a heart-breaking defeat to Canterbury in round 18, Brock Lamb bore a large amount of the criticism. Lamb, who is barely 20-years-old, shrugged off the weight of the negative attention and has now asserted himself as a rising star of the NRL.
A key figure in Newcastle's wins over New Zealand and St George, he provided his best performance yet against Parramatta. After former Eel Ken Sio opened the scoring for the Knights, Lamb played a crucial role in the doubling of Newcastle's advantage. He made a fantastic break from midway inside his own half after an impressive dummy before Mitch Barnett gleefully finished off the youngster's enterprising play.
He continued his dominance in the second half too. Tormenting Corey Norman again, Lamb took the ball to the line before delivering a deft ball to Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who cruised past on the inside of the Eels five-eighth to score.
Minutes later, he took advantage of the the Eels' indecision once more. Close to the line, with Parramatta defenders seemingly waiting for him, Lamb displayed a quality step to evade Cameron King. He had next to no room but he made the Eels pay, slipping between Kenny Edwards and Mitchell Moses to score and ice the game for the Knights.
It was a commanding performance from the young pivot. Lamb will provide excitement to Newcastle fans for the year ahead.
4 Gagai will be missed
As the first winger to win player of the series honours in the State of Origin, we already knew Dane Gagai would be missed next year by the Knights. Against the Eels, he showed exactly why.
Shifted to the custodian role at fullback to cover for the injured Nathan Ross, Gagai tormented Parramatta at every opportunity. He continually put Parramatta on the back foot with his 206 metres gained.
Credited with three try assists, his last was a well-worked effort on the Knights' left hand edge. On the last play, Gagai injected himself into the attacking line at pace as the Knights chose to run the ball. Having received the ball from Peter Mata'utia at pace, he worked his way to the outside of Michael Jennings and put former Eel Ken Sio over for his second try of the game.
5 Perenara bewilders everyone
For the second week in succession we saw an NRL coach slapped with a $10,000 fine for disparaging comments about game officials. In the second half, we saw another example of why coaches and fans have such little faith in NRL officials.
With Parramatta on the back foot and Newcastle looking likely to again breach their line, Sio was brought to ground. Sio tried his luck and offloaded the ball despite the fact that, to everyone but Henry Perenara, the tackle seemed to be complete.
It was a bewildering decision by Perenara, who did little to assuage this feeling when explaining his decision to a despairing Norman after the Knights scored on the set of six secured from the drop-out. Perenara, a man who has played test match rugby league and is charged with adjudicating the laws of the game, saw the same play as everyone else and made a mistake that an under 10 would be embarassed about.
Most commentators have been quick to point out that the mistake ultimately had no bearing on the result, which is correct. Newcastle were the much better team and would have won comprehensively despite this decision. This should not shield Perenara from sanction for committing such a school boy error.
Rather than spending their time trying to brow beat coaches out of questioning the standard of officials, it is perhaps time that the NRL look towards improving the referees. Mistakes like Perenara's simply should not happen.
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