THE LIGHTS went out at Scully Park and rain threatened to pour down all night but not even those little hurdles could stop the Newcastle Knights and Cronulla Sharks putting on an entertaining NRL trial in Tamworth on Saturday.
In fact the rain stopped for most of the game and allowed the local crowd of about 4000 people to enjoy a close contest and a thrilling finish.
The Sharks came from 16-4 down to score three tries in the last 10 minutes and snatch a 22-16 victory.
“I’m not worried about the scoreline – it’s only a trial – but I’m pretty happy,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
“First half we dropped a lot of ball and gave away a lot of penalties and Newcastle got some momentum and scored two tries.
“Then in the second half it went our way. The main thing is we came out with no major injuries.”
Newcastle led 10-nil at halftime after tries to Fijian wingers Kevin Naiqama and Aku Uate highlighted a half dominated by the Knights.
Naiqama opened the scoring when fullback Darius Boyd slid through the line and put his winger over in the left corner.
Knights skipper Kurt Gidley converted from the sideline but couldn’t repeat the dose from the right-hand side after Uate crashed over for the second try.
But after trading tries early in the second half – Stewart Mills crossed out wide for the Sharks and Pat Mata’utia sliced through for the Knights – the Sharks finished the game on top.
Nathan Gardiner scored the first of Cronulla’s three late tries when he followed a kick that bounced his way in the Knights’ in-goal.
He then made the break that eventually led to a good team try to former Knight Isaac De Gois, which levelled the game at 16-all.
It might have been a draw as the clock ticked down until new recruit Jonathan Wright was given enough space in the left corner to torpedo his way over with about 40 seconds left and win it for the Sharks.
Luke Lewis, Todd Carney and Ben Pomeroy missed the game but Flanagan said they would slot straight back into the side for the season opener against the Gold Coast.
He was also pleased that Paul Gallen made a return from injury.
“It was good to see Gal get on and play 30 or 40 minutes in total,” he said.
There were a few injuries but nothing “major” according to the coach.
Bryce Gibbs has a calf problem, Beau Ryan came off early in the game with a knee complaint and Deepwater product Nathan Stapleton left the field with concussion after colliding with Uate.
“Michael Gordon is still finding his feet,” Flanagan said. “He hasn’t played a lot of footy the last couple of years but he played 60 minutes tonight. Jonathan Wright had to move to the wing but he got a try.”
Flanagan said the Knights were also impressive, especially in the engine room, with Willie Mason, Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott leading the way and showing plenty of aggression.
But he also has high hopes for his team after it made the top four last year and then lost both of its semi-finals.
“A lot has to fall into place to be a top four side,” he said. “Last year we were pretty firmly entrenched in the top four but then we fell out at the back end. We’ve got to do better this year and I think we’ve got the cattle.
“To make the top four, that’s our expectation to get up there, and so it should be for the fans as well.”
The coach was also forgiving of the interruption caused by the lights going out after only 13 minutes of play.
That was only a minor problem in an otherwise fruitful trip to Tamworth.
“We had a bit of a Super Bowl moment when the lights went out,” Flanagan said. “But they came back on and the surface was good and then rain held off for most of it. It’s been great.”
The Sharks host the Titans on March 10 to open the new season.