Knights coach Wayne Bennett plans to keep captain Kurt Gidley in the halves indefinitely, after the switch proved a masterstroke in Newcastle's drought-breaking 36-28 victory over North Queensland at Hunter Stadium last night.
Registering their first win since a 26-12 triumph over the Raiders in Canberra on April 12, and only their second from six home games this year, Newcastle snapped their own seven-game losing streak and handed the Cowboys a seventh straight away loss for 2014.
Led by the reunited scrum-base pairing of Gidley and Jarrod Mullen, and an outstanding performance by fullback Darius Boyd backing up after being on the beaten Queensland side in Origin II last Wednesday, Newcastle recovered from an early 6-0 deficit to win for the first time in 73 days and climb out of the NRL basement.
Newcastle's third win of the season took them to eight points, leap-frogging Cronulla on points difference, and raising hopes of upsetting Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium next Sunday.
Boyd scored a try and threw the last pass for three others in his best game in Newcastle colours this season, though he was reported in the 79th minute for a high tackle on Queensland Origin team-mate Johnathan Thurston.
Bennett decided to switch Gidley from hooker to halfback after being impressed with the skipper's energy and enthusiasm playing fullback against the Roosters 10 days ago. Boyd was always going to return from Origin in Newcastle's No.1 jersey but, after seven straight losses, Bennett believed it was time to shake up his playmakers.
Tyrone Roberts came off the bench last night relieving Adam Clydsdale at dummy-half and scored a try backing up a long break by Boyd in the 53rd minute.
"I suppose one of the difficult things for me being here was that Kurt's been injured for two years, and we kind of got on with life without him," Bennett explained.
"Whether he played fullback or halfback, he was playing five-eighth when I arrived here. He got injured very early in that season (2012) then the same happened in the second season ... So last week when he went back to fullback, I watched him at training and realised how much he was enjoying that role and that bit more freedom.
"We'd lost enough games so I thought it won't do any damage to morale to anybody by making the change or whatever, so I made the change.
"I'm pleased with it and I was pleased with the way Tyrone played, more importantly. I thought he handled hooker really good, he's a good player, he's young, so it will be a good benefit to him and he'll pick up a lot of plusses out of tonight and playing with a bit of responsibility off him tonight. He just went out and enjoyed his footy.
"Kurt was busy, which was what we wanted - hands on the ball stuff - and Jarrod also wanted more of the ball tonight, which was good, so that's why we picked up all those points."
Clydsdale was helped from the field in the final minute after apparently suffering a hip injury, but Bennett believed it would not be serious enough to keep him out of the game against the Eels on Sunday, allowing him to keep Mullen and Gidley together calling the shots.
"I'm the coach so I can make those decisions. I haven't got a board right now to worry about," Bennett joked, referring to the uncertainty surrounding his future in Newcastle since the NRL took control of the club from former owner Nathan Tinkler.
Gidley said he enjoyed playing behind his forwards again instead of passing them the ball from dummy-half, and he even managed to scramble over in the 35th minute with a determined run to score his first try of the season.
"We probably haven't scored a heap of points," Gidley said.
"I enjoyed it there and I enjoyed getting my hands on the ball and getting tackled again."
In front of a crowd of only 11,925 hardy supporters on a chilly night, it looked like being another bleak affair for the Knights when Boyd spilled a Thurston bomb and Antonio Winterstein tidied up to score for a 6-0 Cowboys lead.
But Newcastle hit back with tries by Joey Leilua in the 13th minute, Boyd in the 22nd and Gidley in the 35th to lead 16-6 at half-time.
With Gidley and Mullen barking the orders again, Newcastle's forwards ran straight and hard with passion and purpose to establish their authority in the middle of the field, allowing them and Boyd to create chances for their outside backs.
Dane Gagai posted a second-half double and Roberts scored after Boyd made a long break up the middle from a Robbie Rochow offload in the 53rd minute to stretch Newcastle's lead to 28-6.
The Knights conceded four tries in the final 18 minutes - two to Robert Lui, and one each to Tariq Sims and Curtis Rona - having led 32-10 with 14 minutes remaining and 36-16 when Akuila Uate scored Newcastle's seventh try of the night in the 72nd minute, but Bennett was in a forgiving mood.
"If we'd have played consistently and been great all season, you might be a bit disappointed," Bennett said.
"But I'm just happy to get the win and I'm pleased for the guys. They deserve the win.
"We can fix those little things up. They just needed some confidence about the way they played their football and they did a really good job."
Replays showed Lui's second try should never have been allowed as he lost the ball lunging at the line, but referee Matt Cecchin had already awarded it without asking for any help from video referee Steve Clark.
Already without injured Queensland stars Matt Scott (fractured eye socket) and Brent Tate (knee), the Cowboys lost playmakers Ray Thompson (hamstring) in the 26th minute and Rory Kostjasyn (ribs) midway through the second half, leaving Thurston as the sole conductor of a team going backwards for most of the night.
"We're under the pump in that regard at the moment," Cowboys coach Paul Green said of his club's mounting injury toll.
"Certainly Origin II hurt us, and tonight we copped a little bit more of the same.
"But credit to our blokes. I thought tonight we had a number of guys playing out of position there by the end of it, but we still managed to finish the game well, so some of those blokes showed a lot of courage out there."
The Knights crushed the Cowboys 64-16 in the National Youth Cup curtain-raiser.