Blue and red, never dead. The Newcastle Knights emerged from a week of drama to shock defending premiers Sydney Roosters 16-12 at Hunter Stadium on Friday night, registering one of the most courageous wins in their 27-year history.
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Man of the match Tyrone Roberts scored two tries and his grubber kick in the 79th minute created the matchwinner for former Roosters centre Joey Leilua.
The Knights went into the game without captain Kurt Gidley (groin), representative wingers James McManus (toe) and Aku Uate (knee), forward Chris Houston (knee), and fullback Darius Boyd, who on Wednesday was ruled out indefinitely after admitting himself into a Sydney mental-health clinic seeking treatment for depression.
Trailing 6-0 at half-time, they lost back-up skipper Jarrod Mullen to an abdominal strain, leaving Roberts and centre Dane Gagai to steer around a makeshift side that included debutant brothers Sione and Chanel Mata'utia.
The Knights recovered to lead 10-6 midway through the second half, fell 12-10 behind when Frank-Paul Nuuausala scored a converted try in the 71st minute, but that only set the stage for Roberts's heroics in the final moments.
His grubber took a deflection off Jake Friend's legs and Leilua pounced, sending the crowd of 15,468 into raptures.
In stark contrast to their disappointing effort on Rise For Alex day last Sunday, the Knights were full of spirit and spark and never gave up, ending a four-game losing streak to the Roosters at all venues and registering just their second win against the premiers at Hunter Stadium since 2001.
Brothers Sione and Chanel Mata'utia made their NRL debuts for the Knights, deputising for Boyd and Uate respectively.
Eighteen-year-old Sione and 21-year-old Chanel became the first brothers to make their first-grade debuts in the same game since Doug and Bill McRitchie did likewise for St George in the opening round of the 1942 season.
That meant 20-year-old rookie Jake Mamo, who replaced injured McManus on the left wing, as the most experienced member of the back three with five NRL games under his belt before last night. In contrast, Newcastle's regular back three of Boyd, McManus and Uate have combined for 491 NRL games, 32 Tests and 15 State of Origin matches.
Sione and Chanel's 23-year-old brother Peter, who joined St George Illawarra at the end of last season, played six NRL games for the Knights in 2011 and 2012.
Peter, their fourth brother, 20-year-old Pat, who plays in Newcastle's NSW Cup side, and their mother Maria were all in the crowd of 15,468.
Sione suffered the worst possible start to his debut when he slipped trying to shut down a Jake Friend grubber in the second minute.
The ball took a wicked bounce in-field, Mata'utia's right knee buckled, and Roosters skipper Anthony Minichiello was on the spot to score the simplest of tries.
James Maloney converted from in front to give the Roosters a 6-0 lead to suggest it was going to be a long night for the home side but that was still the score at half-time as the Knights dug deep and scrambled to defend their line.
Sione did not dwell on his slip-up, recovering to make a front-on tackle on Roosters back-rower Boyd Cordner in the 28th minute and going close to scoring himself shortly afterwards.
Video referees Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten denied the Roosters tries in the 15th, 24th and 33rd minutes.
In the 15th minute, Sione scrambled back after Dane Gagai's last-tackle mid-field grubber bounced forward off Maloney's boot to force a contest for the ball with Maloney on Newcastle's line.
The ball appeared to rebound backwards and Maloney beat Sione in a "beach-flags" sprint to touch down but, the men upstairs over-ruled on-field referee Grant Atkins and pressed the red light, finding Maloney guilty of a loose carry and awarding Newcastle a scrum feed.
There was no debate over the decision in the 24th minute, as the Roosters knocked on trying to control a Mitchell Pearce bomb and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck could not ground the ball anyway.
On first glance, Maloney appeared to touch down in the 33rd minute after Sonny Bill Williams slipped him a pass close to Newcastle's line but on closer inspection he grounded the ball on Robbie Rochow's leg and Gavin Badger's on-field call of a try was overturned.
For the second time in the space of five days, the Knights lost one of their playmakers to a midriff injury when Mullen did not return after half-time.
The initial diagnosis for Mullen was a lower abdominal strain, which could force him out of their game against South Sydney at Barlow Park in Cairns on Sunday week.
Regular skipper Kurt Gidley, a spectator against the Roosters, aggravated a groin injury in the first half of Newcastle's 22-8 loss to Gold Coast only five days earlier.
Sione Mata'utia and prop David Fa'alogo made another try-saving tackle on Newcastle's goal-line in the 49th minute, then Roberts counter-punched for the Knights by recovering his own chip kick and running deep into Roosters territory.
Williams was lucky not to have been sin-binned for a professional foul on Leilua in the 56th minute, having tackled him from an off-side position, but Newcastle remained on the attack and levelled the scores on the hour when Roberts and Beau Scott combined for Roberts to score.
Badger sent Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to the sin-bin for dissent as he awarded the try, clearly objecting to the way Waerea-Hargreaves questioned the final pass from Scott to Roberts, then Dane Gagai converted to level the scores at 6-6.
Taking advantage of the extra man, the Knights hit the front 10-6 in the 64th minute when Roberts darted over for his second after a long bust and offload by Mason.
Roberts was in the thick of the action again in the 69th minute but Tuivasa-Sheck intercepted his pass to swing the momentum back to the visitors.
The Roosters regained the lead 12-10 in the 71st minute when Frank Paul-Nuuausala toed ahead a Williams offload to score, and Maloney converted.
Before kick-off, NRL chief executive Dave Smith presented Knights coach Wayne Bennett and injured captain Kurt Gidley with a cheque for $1.4million to be forwarded to the Rise For Alex Foundation.
The money was raised during the NRL's Rise For Alex round of matches last weekend and at affiliated fund-raisers for injured Knights forward Alex McKinnon.