Roosters edge Knights in Jennings’ 300th

Jasper Bruce |

Joey Manu (c) proved a match-winner at fullback for the Roosters as they beat the Knights 22-20.
Joey Manu (c) proved a match-winner at fullback for the Roosters as they beat the Knights 22-20.

The Sydney Roosters have overcome a week of headlines and held on for 22-20 defeat of Newcastle, who had to contend with an injury scare to Kalyn Ponga.

The NRL’s decision not to honour controversial centre Michael Jennings in his 300th game had dominated discussion ahead of Thursday night’s clash in Newcastle.

But attention quickly shifted to Ponga when the star fullback hurt himself unsuccessfully attempting to prevent Daniel Tupou scoring the first of his two tries.

“I was thinking, please ‘Battle on’,” Knights coach Adam O’Brien said of Ponga.

In pain and struggling to run, Ponga played on but his suspected hip pointer injury swung the momentum of the game midway through the first half.

Kalyn Ponga
Kalyn Ponga (r) played on through injury. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Roosters hooker Brandon Smith and stand-in fullback Joey Manu combined to help the visitors pile on two more first-half tries, turning an 8-4 deficit into a 16-14 half-time lead.

The talismanic Ponga was too sore to inject himself into the Knights’ attack until after the half, when he came back re-energised and dangerous as usual.

Medical staff attended to Ponga post-match, with Dane Gagai assuming goal-kicking duties mid-game and Jayden Brailey replacing Ponga at the Knights’ press-conference.

“I can tell now on his face, he’s pale. He’s in a lot of pain,” O’Brien said.

“I’ve never had one (a hip-pointer injury) but apparently they’re excruciating.”

After Adam Elliott burst through in the final five minutes, Ponga burst down the right side on a line break that looked as though it could have snatched the lead.

But it was too late for the home side, Manu coming up with a try-saving, and game-winning, ankle tap.

The NRL announced on Monday that Jennings’s “past conduct” would preclude him from being honoured in the usual manner in his milestone game.

Jennings served a three-year drug ban between 2020 and 2023 and was found in a civil case to have sexually and verbally abused his ex-wife. He denied the claims.

The subject of scrutiny all week, Jennings played only a small role for the visitors, having led the team out, and was dominated by opposite centre Bradman Best in the first half.

Jennings
Michael Jennings marked a quiet 300th NRL game with a win. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

It was off the back of a Best kick return that Jackson Hastings opened the scoring for the Knights in the first five minutes, before the centre charged through himself just before halftime.

Jennings blew a chance to put the Roosters in front midway through the first half when he spilt the ball at close range and was largely unsighted in the second stanza.

Hooker Brandon Smith had one of his best games as a Rooster, darting through for the visitors’ third try when a sore Ponga was slow to regain his footing.

“If you create some ruck speed there, Brandon’s going to go and create some opportunities,” said Roosters coach Trent Robinson.

Manu, replacing the concussed James Tedesco as No.1, was just as valuable.

He looped the cut-out pass to Tupou that gave the Roosters their first try and  picked a short-ball from Smith to help Victor Radley to a try.

“(Manu) is always going to touch the ball at the start of the set, at the end of the set and when it’s needed,” Robinson said.

Sitili Tupouniua’s head injury assessment came back as category one in the second half, ruling the Roosters forward out of next Thursday’s clash with Melbourne.

AAP