Newcastle 32 Parramatta 12
THIS competition is no longer round to round, or even game to game - it's minute to minute, and when the clock ran out at EnergyAustralia Stadium last night, Newcastle were back in the top eight and hoping they are in the midst of the run of wins they will need if they are to make the finals.
Parramatta were talking like they were still alive, despite their 20-point loss, but they were just as unconvincing off the field as they were on it. The Eels are still mathematically in it, but when you start bringing mathematics into it, a team really needs to be coming on - rather than dropping off - for you to take them seriously.
Parramatta have been awful for most of the season, and they were awful again last night. It's too late to expect them to suddenly start realising their potential when they have spent 21 rounds trying to do it without success. They might still only be two points outside the top eight, but they look dead in the water.
It was the first time former Knights coach Michael Hagan had been back to this venue as coach of the Eels but there was to be no glorious homecoming. The Eels were gone from the start.
It was Knights coach Brian Smith's night. The former Eels coach celebrated his 500th game as a first-grade coach with a critical win that lifted Newcastle from 11th before the start of the round - and 12th before the start of last night's game - to eighth.
The Knights needed to win by at least 14 points to overtake Wests Tigers, who had risen to eighth with their 52-point win over the Bulldogs on Sunday. They got out to 20-0, got pulled back to 20-6, got away again to 28-6, got pulled back to 28-12 and then scored the last try. Points for-and-against differential is so important in such a tight middle section of the competition table that we're getting games within games now.
Serial pest Peter Hore must have thought Newcastle were going to need some help to win, but he got that wrong. Parramatta prop Fuifui Moimoi was making only the second hit-up of the game when Hore, who had a guitar case on his back, ran on to the field from behind the dead-ball line at the northern end of the ground and jumped on Moimoi after the Knights had already tackled him.
Eels halfback Brett Finch angrily pushed Hore away and then security swarmed over the invader and took him off. Knights winger James McManus, at the post-match media conference, said Finch had later joked that it was the only dominant tackle he got all game. Hey, when the world is caving in, like it is on the Eels, you have to try to find some sort of relief. Finch tried his heart out, like he has all season.
The Knights did not talk pre-game about getting the winning margin they needed to climb into the eight. Winning is hard enough in the NRL, let alone aiming to win by a certain margin. But once they had covered the 14 points they were determined not to let the Eels back inside that spread. That's two wins in a row to the Knights now, but with so many teams right on their hammer they are going to have to keep winning to stay in the eight.
"I'm impressed with the improvement we're getting from our players," Smith said. "But we have to keep improving, because the challenge to win gets bigger. It was very important to win tonight, but I'm very cautious not to think too much about the top eight at this stage. There's no prize for being in the eight after 21 rounds."
Parramatta coach Michael Hagan claimed it wasn't all gloom and doom for his team. Of course, he wasn't happy with the result, but he said the Eels had hung in there and the Knights should be given credit for the way they played. He conceded the result was "pretty important" when it came to the top-eight chances of the two teams, but added that "it doesn't make it insurmountable for our team".
NEWCASTLE 32 (C Houston A MacDougall J McManus J Sau S Simpson M Taufua tries; K Gidley 2 S Dureau C Paterson goals) bt PARRAMATTA 12 (T Lowrie J Reddy tries; K Inu 2 goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Referee: J Robinson. Crowd: 16,435. Pest needs new strings to his bow
Repeat offender Peter Hore added another unscheduled visit to his collection last night, appearing from nowhere to unwisely jump on Eels prop Fuifui Moimoi in the opening minute of the game.
"He was calling himself the serial pest," Eels captain Nathan Cayless said. Eels halfback Brett Finch angrily shoved him off and security arrived to drag him away. Last night he had a guitar case on his back, but he might need a new six-string after being flung to the deck. Knights captain Danny Buderus said: "I heard a loud snap."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.