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Party poopers: Tigers crash Pearce’s 300th celebrations with upset win

Luke Brooks shrugged off a week of headlines to help steer Michael Maguire’s side to their first win of the season in a wild match at Newcastle.
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Not for the first time, Mitchell Pearce grabbed the Knights crest on his jersey and gave it a kiss. By the end of the game, he could have done with a cuddle too.

For the second week in a row, a milestone game ended with a ceremony befitting a cremation rather than a celebration. Typically, Pearce was gracious as he was presented the game ball and congratulated by NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo after his 300th NRL game.

But is there a worse feeling than having such a monumental occasion let down with a loss? Luke Brooks knows only too well, and would have watched with a sense of empathy as Pearce posed for a photo with his Knights teammates afterwards.

A week after sheepishly receiving his own framed jersey for a 150th NRL appearance – arguably one of the most abject of his career – Brooks found the fight to make the hurt Pearce’s a week later.

The Tigers, for all the fire directed at them during the week, are off the mark in season 2021 with an upset 24-20 win over Pearce’s Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday. It couldn’t have come at a better time for coach Michael Maguire, or his little No.7 whose own future had been called into question all week as the Tigers chase Jackson Hastings while trying to get the best out of their own halfback.

The Tigers celebrate a try from Adam Doueihi during Sunday’s upset NRL win over Newcastle.

The Tigers celebrate a try from Adam Doueihi during Sunday’s upset NRL win over Newcastle.Credit:Getty

“I was really pleased with Brooksy,” Tigers coach Michael Maguire said. “He obviously had plenty on going around him, but one thing he was able to do was put that aside. The team rallied around him as well. There wasn’t so much pressure coming at him at times.

“I’ve grown pretty close with the playing group now and understand where they are and what they want. They’re just looking after each other and working hard. I know it’s within this group. What you saw out there today is what this group is about and what they want to be.”

When Pearce raced clear and smooched the badge on his chest to draw the Knights within four points inside the final quarter, you sensed there was only going to be one winner, a theory enhanced when Brooks missed Tex Hoy to set up Tyson Frizell’s try, the first time Newcastle had led all afternoon.

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But one thing about the Tigers, they’re never boring. And so it proved when the outstanding Daine Laurie found David Nofoaluma off a scrum play after Gehamat Shibasaki’s blunder, putting the Tigers ahead for good with seven minutes left.

“It’s frustrating,” Knights coach Adam O’Brien said. “It was an important occasion for us. We desperately wanted to make it a memorable day for [Pearce] – and I’m sure it is – but you want to get the win. It was important. Unfortunately we had some individuals that had some concentration errors. They’re really disappointed.

Newcastle fans commemorate halfback Mitchell Pearce’s 300th NRL game.

Newcastle fans commemorate halfback Mitchell Pearce’s 300th NRL game.Credit:Getty

“There’s some young guys there, I don’t like giving them an out. They’re young men and learning their craft. We’re all young, I’m a young coach and they’re young players. But if you take six out of the starting 13, it’s going to hurt and have an effect.”

Pearce’s 300th NRL game started better than Brooks’ 150th last week, he at least made it through the banner. But it was the maligned Tigers No.7 who would have slipped up the tunnel a little happier at half-time.

While Brooks’ left side was exposed for the enigmatic Hoy’s first try, Brooks kicked superbly for Adam Doueihi to pluck the ball out of the air for one two first-half tries for the Tigers.

It was exactly the play Maguire has been craving from his halves, which have been charged with lifting the joint venture to the finals in the first time in a decade and post Benji Marshall. In Doueihi, the Tigers have a five-eighth finding his mojo.

The Knights were missing Kalyn Ponga, Blake Green, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Bradman Best among others. But even those big names might not be the panacea for O’Brien when they return.

Said Pearce: “I’m just more disappointed we lost and the way we lost. It’s been an awesome [week]. It’s really overwhelming. I’m really grateful and thankful for everything.”

WESTS TIGERS 24 (Tommy Talau, Adam Doueihi, Stefano Utoikamanu, David Nofoaluma tries; Doueihi 4 goals) defeated NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 20 (Tex Hoy, Mitchell Barnett, Mitchell Pearce, Tyson Frizell tries; Hoy 2 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 20,239.

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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