Former Dally M Medallist Ben Barba emerged from an early-season slump to inspire Brisbane to a comprehensive 32-6 victory over a flat and frustrated Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium on Friday night.
The Broncos tackled the Knights out of the game with determined, desperate defence when they were starved of possession early on, and Barba applied the polish once Brisbane established their authority.
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The former Bulldogs match-winner held up Willie Mason and Adam Cuthbertson over the line to deny the Newcastle front-rowers tries, typifying Brisbane's gritty defensive effort, and scored a try of his own and created two others for Matt Gillett and Dale Copley.
Grabbing at his ankle after being tackled in the 78th minute, Barba sent alarm bells ringing in the Brisbane camp but he played the ball and finished the game on his feet.
The six tries-to-one victory extended Brisbane's unbeaten streak over the Knights in Newcastle to four matches, after an 18-all draw last year and back-to-back wins in 2011 (26-6) and 2012 (24-10).
Newcastle's frustrating night was epitomised by a five-minute stretch midway through the second half when Beau Scott lost the ball trying to offload, Barba held Cuthbertson up over the line to stop a try, and Joey Leilua knocked on trying to pass on the first tackle in front of Brisbane's posts.
Former skipper Sam Thaiday was a late withdrawal for the Broncos but they did not miss him, as the likes of Gillett, hooker Andrew McCullough and skipper Corey Parker lifted and led Brisbane's swarming, spoiling defence.
In one of few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing night for the Knights, 19-year-old rookie Jake Mamo made a successful NRL debut on the right wing, replacing former NSW and Australian winger Aku Uate (knee).
"You know he's going to have a long career and I'm looking forward to sitting back and watching it," former Knights captain Andrew Johns said in his role of Channel Nine television commentator.
Mamo was tested several times in the opening minutes but answered each challenge.
He bobbled a bomb with his first touch in the second minute but regathered and earned a penalty.
Mamo returned a kick at full speed five minutes later only to be quickly stopped in his tracks by an Alex Glenn rib-rattler, but the Gosford junior was quick to his feet and a minute later was on the spot to tackle Ben Barba in-goal.
The Knights enjoyed an early possession advantage from a 3-0 penalty count but could not convert that into points.
Having been forced to defend for the opening 15 minutes, Brisbane counter-attacked against the run of play when Matt Gillett intercepted a Chris Houston pass. At the end of the set, Jack Reed batted Ben Hunt's cross-field kick back for Glenn to score out wide for a 4-0 lead.
It was 10-0 six minutes later after Gillett, running at full speed from close range, took an inside pass from Barba to crash through a helpless Darius Boyd and score next to the posts.
Willie Mason went close for the Knights in the 27th minute only to be held up over the line.
Brisbane extended their lead to 16-0 four minutes later when winger Daniel Vidot heaved a pass in-field as he was being tackled into touch by Mamo, and Jack Reed was on the spot to catch the ball and send Barba over for his first try in Brisbane colours.
Knights bench prop Korbin Sims crashed over from close range from an Adam Clydsdale pass in the 36th minute to cut the deficit to 16-6. Newcastle appeared certain to pull even closer one minute before half-time but Barba held Mason up over the line to deny the 34-year-old prop a try.
Mamo's zig-zagging in-field run put the Knights on the attack two minutes into the second half, then he was on the spot to catch Jarrod Mullen's cross-field bomb in the 49th minute only to be tackled short of the line by Vidot.
Mason was reported for a shoulder charge on Parker in the 51st minute, and the tackle will come under the scrutiny of the match review committee on Monday.
Barba, Gillett and Justin Hodges combined to create a try for Dale Copley in the 63rd minute, taking the Broncos all but out of reach with a 20-6 lead, then Parker extended that to 22-6 with a penalty goal six minutes later.
Hunt found Ben Hannant for Brisbane's fifth try in the 74th minute for 26-6, then Josh Hoffman scored in the 79th minute from an Andrew McCullough pass.