Newcastle Knights rebounded well, defeated Cronulla Sharks 38-10 in a spiteful contest tonight in Newcastle.
The Knights issued a finals statement in their 28-point win. Kalyn Ponga starred with a hat-trick as the Knights did all their damage in a first half rampage to consolidate their position in the top eight three weeks out from the semi-finals.
Ponga was dangerous from his first run which almost broke open the Sharks defense. The superstar fullback put the Knights in the lead in the 14th minute and they were never headed. Ponga was safe under the high ball all night, scored once more in the first half then in the 69th minute to complete his hat-trick.
It wasn't all a stroll in the park for Ponga. The fullback came under heavy attention from the Sharks defense which bloodied his nose. He was left downed after a shoulder charge from Chad Towsend which saw the Sharks halfback sent off.
After their embarrassment against the Warriors, the Knights played like they had a point to prove tonight. Starford To'a crossed for a first half double which helped them to a 22-4 half-time lead, alongside some hard defense which frustrated the Sharks.
The visitors frustration boiled over in several incidents which will see four players possibly face a suspension headed into the final three games. Toby Rudolph, Braden Hamlin-Uele and Wade Graham all for dangerous tackles. Townsend will be the talking point after he was sent off for a shoulder charge to deny Ponga a quick tap.
Despite being reduced to twelve, Sharks brought the margin down to 12 when young halfback Connor Tracey poked through. The Sharks were quite plain in their attack all night after scoring first through Ronaldo Mulitalo to make it 4-nil, and will give coach John Morris plenty to ponder this week.
For the Knights, it was the perfect tonic for coach Adam O'Brien. They only conceded ten points and showed grit in defense, muscling up against the Sharks pack. The forwards got their reward late in the contest when Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Josh King both got off the duck egg for the season.