Graphic image: Manly injury sets tongues wagging
Kalyn Ponga was the star of the show on the field, but it was Joel Thompson who got tongues wagging off the field after the clash between Newcastle and Manly.
Teammate Curtis Sironen posted to his Instagram after the game to reveal the horrific tongue injury the Sea Eagles veteran suffered - and it's a nasty one.
"He's tough the old bush goat," Sironen wrote.
Split right down the middle, Thompson's bloody mouth showed the effort Manly put in as they attempted to snatch victory from the Knights.
But with Manly's finals hopes hanging by a thread, Des Hasler delivered more pain on Sunday night when declaring superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic won't be rushed back for Saturday's must-win clash against South Sydney.
And in the wake of another heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Newcastle - that now leaves the injury-ravaged Sea Eagles four competition points outside the top eight - Hasler also delivered a not-so-subtle jab at referee Ashley Klein.
Walking a fine line, Hasler claimed the 11-4 penalty count "kind of kept them in the game". He later said he was being "facetious".
Whatever the case, a team that started the season with such high hopes now looks down for the count in 2020 with six rounds remaining.
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After racing to a 12-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes, Manly slipped behind 16-12 at halftime before clawing back to lead 24-20 heading into the final 10 minutes.
Ultimately it was weight of possession and yet another touch of class from the magical Kalyn Ponga that sealed a vital win for the Knights who move to sixth on the ladder, just a point off the fourth-placed Sydney Roosters and Canberra.
HASLER'S REF SWIPE
A week after Ivan Cleary was slugged $20,000 for claiming it felt like Canberra had been "managed" back into the game, Hasler was at his crafty best.
It's certainly not going to earn Hasler a fine. But he made sure he made his point.
"It is supposed to be a game to increase fatigue but Ashley found an 11-3 penalty count," Hasler said.
"So that would be my only gripe. 11-3 against … it kind of kept them in the game. I don't mind the 11 against, I just want a few more than 3."
Although the count was actually 11-4, no one wanted to point out Des's slight discrepancy.
He then suggested refs' boss Bernie Sutton might need to "do a review of Ashley and his penalties."
Questioned that he "clearly felt hard done by," Hasler responded: "No. Not hard done by. It's just an explanation."
Asked if Sutton needed to review Klein, he added: "I was being facetious. Just a joke. You can't be a fine for being facetious, can you? I just wanted to check. I might have to explain the word facetious to Bernie."
TURBO A NO-GO
Going into the game without bookend props Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake as well as Dylan Walker, a "rested" Jorge Taufua, and of course the flying fullback, most judges expected the Knights to put a score of the Sea Eagles.
But from the opening minutes Manly aimed up.
It kicked off with an amazing piece of eyes-up play from young five-eighth Cade Cust that was one of the season's standout solo moments.
Cust swooped on a bouncing Daly Cherry-Evans kick before somehow staying just inside the touchline and putting his own kick through two defenders.
He then won the chase for the ball to open the scoring through sheer desperation and skill.
That followed when Cherry-Evans backed up to score minutes later and at that point an upset was on the cards.
But after losing Adam Elliot to what looks a season ending ACL knee injury, the Sea Eagles had nothing go their way.
Brendan Elliot off with a left knee injury. Indirect contact as he is landing, best case by video is possible meniscus injury but concern for ACL injury with landing + appearance of tibial shift (lower leg bone shifts forward) during landing. Hoping for better than expected news pic.twitter.com/5TA6Mfi8j3— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) August 16, 2020
What's worse, Hasler said Trbojevic still has at least two weeks before he's back.
Trbojevic hasn't played since suffering the injury back in round six in that courageous win over Canberra.
From that point Manly has only managed two wins in eight games, their last win against North Queensland in round 11.
PRAISE FOR O'BRIEN
"We would have lost that game last year."
That was big David Klemmer's summary of the match.
The Knights haven't played finals football since 2013 but they will this year.
It now just depends if they can seal a top four spot.
A week after Ponga's best ever club game in the win over Wests Tigers, the fullback was again a standout setting up two of the five tries with sublime skills, one of those the match clincher for Enari Tuala who bagged himself a double.
Kurt Mann and Klemmer were strong also, but the Knights and Sea Eagles both had plenty of worthy performers.
While Adam O'Brien was making sure his players didn't get ahead of themselves, Klemmer certainly made his feelings known that the biggest change this year has come directly from the new coach's influence.
"The experience he has had with clubs at Melbourne and the Roosters and what he has seen footy sides go through to win competitions and what winning environments are like, he has obviously taken us there in the off season," Klemmer said.
"I think it is paying dividends now."
Of their remaining six games, the Knights only play the Roosters and Sharks who are currently in the top eight. Other games are against the Cowboys next Sunday at home along with the Warriors, Dragons and Titans.
- Paul Crawley
Why Knights love new recruit after just one game
A 33-year-old who has played for eight NRL clubs has emerged as the missing link in Newcastle's pursuit of their first finals appearance since 2013.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien believes veteran journeyman Blake Green is the answer to unlocking the class of Mitchell Pearce, whose own game has been stunted by the selection of a different five-eighth every seven games.
In his 51 appearances for the Knights since 2018, Pearce has combined with an all too high rotation of halves partners - and of whom, due to their similar playing style to that of the premiership-winner, have cramped Newcastle's strike-power.
Pearce's five-eighth partners since his arrival from the Roosters, according to the Fox Sports Lab, include Kurt Mann (17-games), Mason Lino (11), Connor Watson (10), Jack Cogger (5), Kalyn Ponga (4), Brock Lamb (3) and Green (1).
Aside from Green, the six other halves partners for Pearce were either ball-runners, untested at first-grade, uncomfortable at organising the team or not a noted kicker.
But in Green, who joined the club from the Warriors 10-days ago, O'Brien says the search for Pearce's perfect foil could be over.
"Mitchell has always been an on-the-ball type player,'' O'Brien said.
"He pushes up in support, takes the line on, runs and then all of a sudden the fifth tackle creeps up on him and he hasn't organised the set, but it's up to him to kick.
"Kurt (Mann) is very much the same player and then so you ask Kalyn to kick as well, but if you do that all of them are running on about five or six cylinders, as opposed to eight because they're worried about focusing on other parts of the game.
"But when Greeny comes in, he says, I can do the stuff you can't, so you be you, and I'll be me.
"That's bringing the best out of all of them.''
Green takes on one of his former clubs in Manly this afternoon in what is a pivotal match for the Knights in the context of their push for a long-awaited finals berth.
Having spent only 30 minutes together at training prior to smashing the Wests Tigers 44-4 last week, Green and Pearce have rarely left each other's sight this week.
According to O'Brien, the new pairing are a perfect fit.
"They spent 30 minutes on the field together last week and that was it,'' O'Brien said.
"At the start, it was a little bit like putting the second bull in the paddock and thinking what's going to happen here?
But it was fluent, they got on, they're both footy nuts and I think they both bring the best version of themselves out.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, it was one game.
"But if we are to go deep and make a run (at the finals), you need a bloke in the dressing room, who the guys can think, 'We're a chance today, we've got Greeny over there.''
"I reckon he does that, he makes others feel comfortable."
- David Riccio
Originally published as Graphic image: Manly injury sets tongues wagging