Newtown's scratchy 28-20 win against competition newcomers Wyong at Henson Park last Saturday enabled the Jets to stay in the chase for that all-important semi-final double chance.
Newtown looked decidedly unimpressive for much of the game against the competition's cellar-dwellers and trailed 14-6 at half-time, and then by 20-12 with less than twenty minutes left to play.
No first half glory for Jets
Wyong opened the scoring in the 5th minute with a try against the run of play, courtesy of an ill-judged Newtown grubber-kick at the Roos' end. Jets forward Saulala Houma made a determined chase that at least prevented the Wyong try-scorer from getting nearer to the posts.
The Roos then scored their second try through some sharp ball play and smart angle running, aided by some inept defensive reads in the Newtown backline. It was clear at this stage that not all of the Jets players had turned up with a good mindset for this match.
Newtown's Brad Barrett scored in the 23rd minute after the Jets had put pressure on the Wyong defence in their own quarter for an extended period. Newtown's defensive shortcomings were on show again when the Roos romped in for a soft try ten minutes prior to halftime, with the conversion giving Wyong a 14-6 lead.
Half-time coaching 'roast'
There are no prizes for guessing that Jets coach Greg Matterson gave his players a well-deserved blast at halftime. He impressed upon the Newtown team that their place in the top four was on the line and that their first half form was unacceptable.
Better display in second half
The Jets responded by narrowing their points deficit to 14-12 with a great try early in the second half. Josh Ailaomai kick-started the try-scoring movement with a superb midfield off-load, and Ryley Jacks and Adam Henry combined efficiently to send Pierce Sapsford over in the northern left-side corner. Chris Taripo assisted by nailing the conversion from the sideline.
The Jets then failed to field the kick-off safely, forcing themselves to defend on their own line and then having to repel repeat sets from Wyong. The Roos looked to be on track for an upset win when they scored by once again running the angles and using switches in play.
The match was into the fourth quarter when Pierce Sapsford broke away inside his own half, and Ryley Jacks backed up and stepped and swerved his way to score a very determined try. Chris Taripo's conversion narrowed Wyong's lead to 20-18.
Jets hooker Nafe Seluini had injected enthusiasm into Newtown's ranks with his bursts from dummy-half, and just as he did in the 2012 Grand Final, the Tongan international again came to Newtown's rescue when he plunged over next to the northern goal-posts. Ray Moujalli had made a decisive carry that put Seluini within striking distance of the line. Taripo's conversion in-off the right hand upright gave Newtown a 24-20 lead.
The Jets missed two more scoring chances but Sapsford's second try gave the Jets something of a points buffer-zone after Jacks and Henry had again done good lead-up work.
The consensus of the Newtown coaching staff was that this had been a scrappy performance that the team would do well to put behind them. There had been some good individual performances and flashes of inspiration that had been outweighed by the defensive lapses, poor kicking options and with the forwards being beaten in the rucks in the first half.
The Jets might have claimed the points but there was a lot of improvement needed. Nafe Seluini and Kurt Kara were judged to be Newtown's best players on the day.
Last game before Finals - Rd26 Reunion day follows the Rd25 Newtown BYE
Newtown has the bye in the 25th round this weekend and then faces Canterbury-Bankstown in a traditional local derby at Henson Park on Saturday, 7 September, which is also the 2013 club Reunion Day. The compelling incentive of a finals double-chance remains for the Jets, with this vital match timed for kick-off at 3.00pm.
Special guests for the reunion day will be the players from the landmark year of 1973, when the Newtown club won its only NSWRL Club Championship title and all three grades made the finals.
Newtown 28 [Pierce Sapsford 2, Brad Barrett, Ryley Jacks, Nafe Seluini tries; Chris Taripo 3, Paul Rokolati goals]
Half-Time: Wyong led 14-6.
Officials: Referee, Daniel Olford; Touch judges, Stephen Ellison and Brendan Lucas.
Weather: Fine, sunny, mild, 20 degrees.
Coach: Greg Matterson