The Gold Coast Titans gave a glimpse of what is possible from their 'Generation Next' in their 33-26 victory in one of the season's most dramatic see-sawing clash with Newcastle at Cbus Super Stadium.
Halfback Ash Taylor, in his best performance for two months, stole the match in the dying minutes when he elected to kick high rather than take a field goal to break a 26-26 deadlock, and his 19-year-old halves partner Alexander Brimson cleaned up a rebound from Dale Copley to seal the game with his first NRL try.
Phillip Sami scored two tries on the left wing, Brimson showed some touches of real class, while 21-year-old Keegan Hipgrave was aggressive and enthusiastic in his first run-on appearance.
And 18-year-old Titans prop Moeaki Fotuaika was part of the drama too, the first of two Gold Coast players sin-binned, leaving them with 11 men for a minute after Jarrod Wallace followed him early in the second half for a professional foul.
Yet the most sensational moment of the match came from the kid everyone in the NRL is talking about, Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga, with a 90-metre try that looked like it would give Newcastle an incredible victory.
Ponga showed why he is regarded as the NRL's superstar of the future when he was given the ball by winger Ken Sio on a kick-return 10 metres from his own line but go around the Titans' chasers and showed blinding speed to tear away for a try. Brock Lamb's conversion gave Newcastle a 26-18 lead with 20 minutes remaining.
Typical of this match, there was an instant turning point straight after. Daniel Saifiti spilled the ball when returning the kick-off. From the scrum the ball shifted right and Brenko Lee pushed off Nathan Ross with a right-hand fed and fed the unmarked Anthony Don a free run to the line.
Taylor took over the goalkicking duties from Michel Gordon and landed the goal for 26-24 Newcastle, then levelled the scores with a penalty goal soon after before laying on the final try for Brimson.
Taylor sealed the game with just over two minutes remaining when he set for a field goal on the fourth tackle and landed it from 25 metres out in front, ensuring the Titans broke a five-match losing season and kept their season alive.
The Titans struck first when Kalyn Ponga spilled a bomb and the Titans sent the ball left, with Brimson sending Phillip Sami over in the corner.
Unbelievably, the Titans' next points – a penalty goal to Gordon to take the lead to 8-0 – came from a scrum win against the feed sparked by returning hooker Nathan Peats. The Titans received a penalty in front of the posts in the next set and took the two points on offer.
Sione Matu'atia struck back quickly for the Knights with the visitors' first points, stepping off his right foot to beat Dale Copley one-on-one.
Back-to-back penalties in their own quarter saw Brock Lamb handed an easy penalty goal attempt and he levelled the scores at the 32-minute mark.
Match: Titans v Knights
Round 11 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium
- LIVE PASS
Just before half-time Titans fans saw the side of Taylor that has been held back too often this season – his running game. The second time he ran the ball to the line in the same set produced a try for Copley on the left, when Taylor went at the line with intent and fed a class one-handed pass to Copley in the tackle.
Promising 18-year-old Titans prop Fotuaika, had a start to the second half that he will want to forget – dropping the ball cold in his first hit-up of the half before being sin-binned in the following set for holding onto Mata'utia too long. Two plays later Slade Griffin sent Herman Ese'ese over for Newcastle's second on the left edge.
Sami scored his second for the Titans in the 46th minute after Copley brilliantly threw a left-handed offload out the back to the unmarked Sami. Gordon converted from wide out for the home side to again gain supremacy at 18-14.
For a minute the Titans were down to 11 men when Wallace was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul, joining Fotuaika. Wallace put his arm out to obstruct Danni Levi from an offside position and referee Grant Atkins had no hesitation in disposing of Wallace for 10 minutes.
Just 60 seconds later the Titans were back to 12 men with Fotuaika's return but the Knights kept the pressure up and were rewarded with a try to Ken Sio in the left corner after Ponga skipped outside his defender and threw a wonderful long ball.
But the home side would finish the stronger to end a five-game losing streak.
There were several tremendous individual efforts. Mitchell Barnett was outstanding for the Knights, Ponga very good while veteran Titans fullback Michael Gordon was excellent.
News & Notes: Nathan Peats did his Origin chances no harm with an excellent 50-minute effort on return from a rib injury... A trio of firsts for the Titans: AJ Brimson scored his first NRL try, Keegan Hipgrave had his first NRL start and Moeaki Fotuaiki was sin-binned for the first time in his career... Crowd: 11,008... Jai Arrow played the full 80 minutes despite being in discomfort all match in his return from a rib injury.