THE euphoria of theirseason-opening wins against Manly and Canberra is fading fast for the Newcastle Knights.
ONE-WAY TRAFFIC: Newcastle’s Shaun Kenny-Dowall races to field a ball in his in-goal as a host of St George Illawarra players put pressure on him. Picture: AAP
For the second gamein a row, the Knights have been outclassed by quality opponents, this time in a 30-12 loss to unbeaten competition leadersSt George Illawarra at WIN Stadium.
TRY TIME: Chris Heighington scores his first four-pointer in almost three years.
Following their 38-8 defeat against the Sydney Roosters a week earlier, whatever confidence and momentum the Knights had garnered in the first two rounds of 2018 is now little more than a fond memory.
This phase of their campaign, during which Newcastleplay only two of their first eight games on home turf, was always expectedto be challenging for a new-look team that has included as many as nine off-season imports.
BRAVE FACE: Dragons centre Euan Aitken played on despite a gash on his chin.
After three weeks on the road, the Knights return to McDonald Jones Stadium this Saturday and an improved performance against Brisbane will be essential.
A two-game losing streak is no great cause for concern over the course of a 24-round season, but any longer on the wrong side of the ledgerand self-belief can start to dwindle.
The Dragons’ form in the lead-up suggested theywould provide formidable opposition, and they did not disappoint.
Their forwards are as tough and physical as any in the competition, and they now have two top-class halves pulling the strings in Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop.
They certainly had more than enough ammunition to outgun a Newcastle team who committed more errors (13-5), missed more tackles (25-14) and made fewer metres in attack (1534-1096).
The visitors started brightly enough but sadly their fourth-minute try, scored by luckless centre Tautau Moga, proved a turning point in the match.
As he stretched out to score, a grimace appeared on Moga’s face and his immediate reaction after grounding the ball was to clutch his left knee, rather than celebrate.
He was helped from the field and reports soon surfaced that he had suffered a suspected anterior-cruciate ligament tear, which would in all likelihood end his season.
If so, it would be a devastating blow for the former Roosters, Cowboys and Broncos centre, who has already endured three reconstructions on his other knee.
In Moga’s absence, utility Jamie Buhrer played 76 minutes as a stopgap centre.
On the other side of the field, winger Nathan Ross was taken from the field for a head-injury assessment, prompting a brief backline re-shuffle that left Aidan Guerra in the centres.
All of which highlightedthe dilemma facing Knights coach Nathan Brown.
With Moga out, winger Ken Sio appears the only replacement option with any first-grade experience to his name.
A month into the season, Brown’s resources are already stretched to the limit.
He can only hope the adversity they now face brings out the best in his players.