BRISBANE’S season is over and so, it would appear, is that of Newcastle’s former NSW State of Origin captain Kurt Gidley.
Newcastle will almost certainly be in the NRL finals after coming from 14-0 down a minute from halftime to edge the Broncos 26-18 at Suncorp Stadium on the opening night of the season’s penultimate round of home and away fixtures.
It’s only the second time in 21 years the Broncos have missed the finals.
But the Knights and Wayne Bennett had little reason to celebrate a rare away win over Brisbane. Gidley, who missed three months this year with a tendon injury to his left foot, was carried off in agony with an injury to his right after scoring a crucial try eight minutes after halftime.
Late Friday, Gidley was in hospital but his chance of taking part in the play-offs and the World Cup, where he would have been a near-certain Australian selection, appear grim.
The Knights victory was all the more remarkable considering an astonishing gaffe by winger Akuila Uate in the first half and their general listlessness during the opening stanza.
Four players – Peter Wallace, Dunamis Lui, Corey Parker and David Fa’alogo – were placed on report for a variety of offences while captain Sam Thaiday was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
Victory was assured for the Knights when fullback Darius Boyd crossed for his second try near fulltime. Centre Joey Leilua also posted a brace.
The game featured what was probably the bombed try of the season, Uate scooping up a loose ball and racing 90 metres, almost unopposed, before appearing to touch down one-handed.
On closer inspection, however, Uate lost control of the ball. Video referees Jason Robinson and Neil Wharton disallowed the try. The Fijian appeared to lose confidence immediately afterwards, failing to challenge for kicks and spilling a bomb in the 32nd minutes.
By any measure, Brisbane’s 14-6 halftime lead flattered the visitors.
The Broncos opened the scoring after 10 minutes when Corey Parker waltzed over to the right of the posts from the pass of a sharp-looking Andrew McCullough.
Scott Prince, who announced his retirement last week, converted and added the extras once more when McCullough scrambled over from dummy half just five minutes later.
Wayne Bennett’s side was on the back foot constantly during the early stages. After a penalty for interfering in the play-the-ball, Prince ticked the score over to 14-0 with ease.
Faced with annihilation, the Knights muscled up in defence. In the case of an apparent shoulder charge by Alex McKinnon, after Zane Tetevano and Willie Mason had already made contact with Ben Hannant in the 20th minute, they may have overdone it.
But at a time when Brisbane could have gone on the rampage, the Knights held them out.
Seconds short of the break, the Knights kept the ball alive in the south-eastern corner and centre Joseph Leilua dived over for his side’s first try, which Gidley converted from the sideline.
Brisbane had led the penalties 4-0 but by early in the second half, they found themselves behind as referees Ashley Klein and Chris James marched the Novocastrians up the field.
Thaiday found himself in a running battle with Klein and at 48 minutes, the second rower was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements.
Seconds later, Gidley sighted a gap and sliced through. But when he waved team-mates away from the ground, it was out of agony rather than reluctance to celebrate flamboyantly.
The injury-blighted Australian international and former NSW captain had suffered a suspected broken foot and the sight of him writhing in pain before being administered an oral anaesthetic was disturbing.
After play was held up for some time while a medicab arrived on the scene, replacement James Roberts goaled and Brisbane’s lead had been eroded to just two points.
NEWCASTLE 26 (J Leilua 2 D Boyd 2 K Gidley tries Roberts 2 Gidley goals) bt BRISBANE 18 (C Parker A McCullough C Oates tries S Prince 3 goals) bt at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: A Klein/C James. Crowd: 27,601
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD