Blues in disarray as Knights destroy Roosters
THE Blues' State of Origin preparations have been thrown into chaos after an injury to Luke Keary, and another dazzling display from Mitchell Pearce, in Newcastle's 38-12 win over the Roosters.
On a night when an inspired Pearce well and truly put his hand up for Origin selection with his fifth consecutive man-of-the-match performance, Brad Fittler's Origin preparations were thrown into turmoil after Keary was crunched and knocked out cold in a legal but heavy tackle in just the eighth minute.
With the Roosters playing without Cooper Cronk, who was rested, a near-capacity home crowd of 25,929 were blown away by the Knights' performance, which must certainly have them rated as a fair-dinkum premiership threat after their five straight victories.
But the win will somewhat be overshadowed by Keary's health concerns given Fittler will name his team on Sunday to take on Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on June 5.
Keary's place in the Blues' team was expected to be a formality with the Rooster tipped to partner Nathan Cleary in the halves.
But that could all now hinge on a neurological assessment in the coming days.
Asked if the Roosters would want Keary to play given his recent history of head knocks, coach Trent Robinson said: "If he is right I would love him to play. He deserves to play.
"You can't be selfish as a coach when it comes to Origin. You have to allow those guys to go and play because they get more fatigued and they become better players.
"So any chance you get to have your players play Origin you will drive them there if you have to because it does cost but it does make them better."
Robinson was reluctant to go into the details of what Keary would need to overcome to be passed fit.
But he said it would start with waking up without a headache on Saturday, and if he passed the protocols in the coming days he could do contact training after four days and would be fit to play after six.
With Origin on June 5, that gives Keary more than enough time to prove his fitness providing he passes the protocols.
But Fittler conceded he would have to take the advice of medical experts before naming his team.
Former Roosters' club doctor Ameer Ibrahim said Keary would need neurological assessment before he could play for NSW.
Keary was also concussed in the round-six clash against Melbourne and he was also knocked out while playing for Australia late last year.
The incident on Friday night occurred when Keary was smashed legitimately by young Knights' prop Daniel Saifiti.
The five-eighth did not appear to move for some time.
Keary was eventually assisted from the field, looking like he had no recollection.
Robinson said Keary was "average", and Fittler said on Channel 9: "My big concern is his health at the moment. I will take advice of medical staff."
Robinson said during the week that in his mind, Pearce would always be a Rooster.
But boy, didn't Pearce play with something to prove against his former club.
And he certainly made it known exactly where his loyalties lay when he kissed the Knights' badge on his jumper after scoring a crucial try just before half-time.
Pearce put on a brilliant show of leadership while fullback Ponga was equally superb.
It was the fifth consecutive game Pearce had scored in, and Ponga made it six tries in as many games with a brilliant solo try where he stepped past three defenders.
The Knights were absolutely dominant from start to finish, taking a 22-6 lead to half-time and even though the Roosters slowed the points in the second half, they were totally outplayed and out-muscled.
After a slow start to the season the Knights have really turned the corner, with their last loss back in round six against Gold Coast.
It was the type of win that is going to raise the bar on the expectations of the Knights this year, especially given they also did it for the most part without in-form hooker Danny Levi, who suffered an ankle injury in the 12th minute.
Across the park they played with plenty of aggression and spirit, led superbly up front by David Klemmer, who charged for 191m, while Saifiti was also enormous.
It was the Roosters' second loss on the trot and the decision to rest Cronk really came back to bite them after Keary's early injury.
The Roosters looked tired and well in need of the rest they will get next weekend with the bye heading into Origin.
NEWCASTLE 38 (H Hunt E Lee M Pearce K Ponga C Watson tries K Ponga 7 M Barnett 2 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 12 (S Taukeiaho J Tedesco tries L Mitchell 2 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, Peter Gough. Crowd: 25,929