Veteran half Mitchell Pearce returned from a month on the sidelines to confirm just how vital he is to the Knights’ finals hopes with his touches of class accounting for the Broncos.
The 32-year-old, playing his 304th NRL game, scored a match-turning try on the cusp of half-time and was the master conductor in the second stanza as the Knights overcame a resilient Broncos to get themselves provisionally into seventh position on the ladder with a 28-20 win at Suncorp Stadium.
Pearce got Tyson Frizell firing in the second half with his trademark inside balls and put a steaming Mitchell Barnett over to put the game beyond doubt after Newcastle held a narrow 12-8 lead at the break.
The Knights have been given a dream draw by the NRL and have played the top six teams just seven times this year.
They don’t play a team in the top six for the rest of the season and a loss to the Broncos would have been a hammer blow to their finals chances.
The Knights were far from convincing, perhaps understandably after having the first four-day turnaround by any team since the Titans in Round 19, 2009. They were unable to crack Brisbane early despite having seven full sets and took the foot off the throat when they led 28-8.
Knights winger Hymel Hunt went off for an HIA in the 18th minute and did not return after Broncos prop Keenan Palasia was put on report for a high shot that no doubt would have led to a sin-binning in Magic Round.
Brisbane scored first through Tesi Niu before Jake Clifford weaved his way through four Broncos to get the Knights going. With Brisbane in front leading into the break, Pearce made a statement and then took control in the second half with Kalyn Ponga also instrumental in setting up two tries in his first game as Newcastle captain.
The Broncos defended on their own line for most of the first ten minutes but managed to hold the Knights out. Picture: NRL ImagesSource:Supplied
If the Knights are to play finals football, they will need their general Pearce to stay on the park for the rest of the season. His try on the cusp of half-time, after stepping off his famous left foot and charging like a forward to score with sheer will, was all class. The 2013 premiership winner has had a wretched run with injury and played just his seventh game for the season. It is just as well he did because the Knights were lacking inspiration until he put his stamp on the game.
Knights back-rower Tyson Frizell was a wrecking ball last year at the Dragons, and for NSW, but has more to give for Newcastle this year. He showcased his best in the second half against the Broncos and it was running off Pearce where he was most effective. After a quiet first half, Frizell found his mojo on the way to running for 166m and making a telling break in the lead-up to a controversial Lachlan Fitzgibbon try. For not the first time this year, prop Daniel Saifiti played a lone hand through the middle of the park in the early stages before David Klemmer was injected to provide thrust.
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