On an emotional afternoon at Hunter Stadium the Newcastle Knights have thumped a rudderless Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 30 points to nil in front of 18,196 fans.
You could feel the energy in the air at a sun-drenched Hunter Stadium in Newcastle this afternoon. Already a tight bunch, the Novocastrian crowd seemed to pull together tighter in the wake of the horrible injury to youngster Alex McKinnon last weekend. Players and fans alike stood in silence before kick-off to honour the promising back rower, with Coach Wayne Bennett even joining his team in the on field huddle, along with injured five-eighth Jarrod Mullen and retired hooker-cum-trainer Danny Buderus. They say nothing in life is set in stone but after viewing the emotion and intensity in the eyes of the red and blue clad players, it really was hard to see the winless Sharks getting up, and so it proved to be.
Joseph Leilua scored the first of his treble in just the 10th minute with a characteristically powerful run. Todd Carney and Matt Prior will not enjoy video analysis next week as it was Leilua who terrorised their left edge for all three of his first half tries. Leilua really is one of those rare players who are almost unstoppable close to the line with a head of steam. In between Leilua's frolics, little half back Tyrone Roberts put the underrated Robbie Rochow through a gap to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The Sharks were their own worst enemies as they lurched from one error to the next and generally looked like a side that had just met each other. Newcastle's dominance meant that they went into the break up by 26 points.
The second half was a lacklustre affair, the game meandering along like Phil Gould on his way to the fish & chip shop. The Sharks were the main culprits, with too many unforced errors which allowed the Knights to drop their intensity. The resulting 40 minutes was not a great spectacle for the game, with the only highlight and points of the half coming from a scything 30 metre Roberts burst down the left. The Knights won't care though as they have now notched up their first win of the season as well as winning for Alex McKinnon, whose number 16 jersey will be retired for the rest of the season as a mark of respect. For the Sharks the return of representative players Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen can't come quick enough, as they should provide some much needed starch. Next week they face the Warriors back home at Remondis, while the Knights travel to Townsville for a Monday night showdown with North Queensland.