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Apprentice Price gets one over master in thrilling season-opener

Date

Greg Prichard

Newcastle 14 St George Illawarra 15

Knights fans get pumped up before the start of the match. Click for more photos

Dragons defeat Knights

The Wayne Bennett era at Newcastle got off to a losing start at Hunter Stadium with his former St George Illawarra side spoiling his welcome party with a dramatic 15-14 golden-point win. All pictures by Darren Pateman, Ryan Osland and Peter Stoop / Newcastle Herald. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH. Photo: Darren Pateman

MATCH STATS

Steve Price, take a bow. You took your team to your coaching mentor's new house and came away with the win. There might be seven games left in the opening round of the NRL, but there won't be a better coaching performance come out of any of them. St George Illawarra haven't forgotten how to get the job done, they're just doing it under a different coach.

Newcastle, on the other hand, are clearly a work in progress - but that's not a bad thing. Master coach Wayne Bennett has them heading in the right direction, it's just going to take time for them to reach their destination.

And what about the way it was decided, with a Jamie Soward field goal for 15-14 in extra-time? Soward, the player Bennett virtually created, knocking over his old coach first-up.

Bennett would have spent all summer preaching discipline and getting the basics right to his players, so the complete lack of discipline shown by his veteran centre, Timana Tahu, would have gone down very poorly with him. Tahu, in possession, used a knee on a player on the ground - Dragons forward Matt Prior - 15 minutes into the second half, and was penalised and reported. The Knights were deep in attack at the time.

All summer, the talk had been about how Bennett was the messiah who would take the Knights back to the top. How the Dragons were in trouble not only because Bennett had gone, but because star player Darius Boyd had gone with him, Mark Gasnier had retired and Bennett's replacement, Price, could write his first-grade CV on the back of a postage stamp - and still have a space the size of a postage stamp left over.

But Price had learnt from his time under Bennett, and had matched his old boss when it came to being conservative with his public utterances during the non-playing months. It wasn't until the days leading up to the Charity Shield and a mountain of interview requests were sitting there that Price was finally convinced by the club to talk. And that's when it first became publicly clear that he had something.

Price might have been a rookie at this level, but the noises he made were those of an experienced man. There was no uncertainty. He was sure about things, and his loyalty to his players shone through. He was all about preparing the team as well as he could for round one, and not worrying about anything else. Following Bennett in? He knew he couldn't be Bennett, so why even think about it.

Price concentrated on what he could control, and he did a great job in producing the Dragons in the sort of form that gave them a chance of winning on the road against their old coach and his new team at a ground that was already traditionally hard to win at and was pretty close to a sell-out, such was the level of expectation of Knights fans.

The Dragons were the more expansive team, and they still have that desperation in defence. They made a point of kicking away from dangerous Knights winger Akuila Uate on the last tackle, even if the regular kicker - Soward - had to pump the ball clear across the other side of the field to do so. This negated one of Newcastle's strengths: the ability of Uate to run the ball back with a head of steam against a possibly uneven defence.

It was a nervous night, because the Dragons could never quite get away from the Knights. They led 8-2 in the first half, and got pulled back to 8-6 before half-time, and then led 14-6 in the second half before the Knights drew level and forced extra time. And then came the killer blow. Soward, coming back to haunt Bennett. What a way to finish.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 15 (M Cooper B Morris tries J Soward 3 goals J Soward field goal) bt NEWCASTLE 14 (J McManus J Mullen tries K Gidley 3 goals) in golden-point extra time at Hunter Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 29,189.

12 comments so far

  • What I like about the early season for Saints is that they should have scored a number of tries in the Charity Shield, but were held up over the line etc. Same last night, Fien dropping the ball over the line which would have made the Knights look a lot worse !

    Commenter
    Stokers
    Date and time
    March 02, 2012, 12:50PM
    • Hunter Stadium may be "a ground that was already traditionally hard to win at" for most teams, but St George had won 11 of the 13 matches they had played there prior to this match. Now it is 12 from 14.

      Commenter
      JohnC
      Date and time
      March 02, 2012, 2:39PM
      • That's right. The Saints were the better side all game.

        Commenter
        prayforrain
        Location
        Aus
        Date and time
        March 02, 2012, 2:57PM
        • watched game.. it now has become a game where they just throw ball backwards and just hope.

          Commenter
          KAR
          Date and time
          March 02, 2012, 3:54PM
          • Written off by everybody, Saints did us proud and a few silly mistakes made the victory harder than it need to be.

            Commenter
            daffy
            Date and time
            March 02, 2012, 3:57PM
            • Both teams were as rusty as you'd expect in Round One. The Dragons were unlucky not to lay on three more tries and they gifted the Knights their second after a bad miss in the air by the fullback. On balance they deserved the win in an away match in front of a huge Knights' crowd.

              Commenter
              Drew Blood
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              March 02, 2012, 4:40PM
              • Rugby League is all about scoring tries! The Golden point should be replaced by a "GOLDEN TRY" in extra time.
                If a team infriges the rules in extra time the resulting penalty should be a kick in play plus the infringing player, or players taken from the field!!!
                What a clean, thrilling, exciting finish we would see!!!

                Commenter
                "try"decider supporter
                Date and time
                March 02, 2012, 6:15PM
                • Imagine how good we could be if we cut the deadwood that is st george loose and became the STEELERS again. st george belong in st george where us STEELERS can truly hate them all with a passion, as we have always done

                  Commenter
                  alex
                  Date and time
                  March 02, 2012, 6:59PM
                  • Hopefully Bennett doesn't get around to every team in the league. It's pretty clear that he doesn't coach free flowing football.

                    Grind, grind grind....

                    Commenter
                    Pete75
                    Location
                    Perth
                    Date and time
                    March 02, 2012, 7:13PM
                    • I did not get to see the first half, but Soward was virtually pleading for the ball quite a few times and could have won the game before extra time. Bit frustrating to watch Soward denied about 3 chances. It was the best 2nd half of a game so early in the season. Nightingale the freaky player was amazing when he got the ball back into the field by diving under the Dragons. He is also amazing to watch, when he makes something out of nothing.

                      Commenter
                      Mad Cam
                      Location
                      Brisbane
                      Date and time
                      March 03, 2012, 12:44AM

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