By Jamie Anderson
The Newcastle Knights moved into the VB NSW Cup top four on Sunday afternoon following a workmanlike 23-16 win over the Cronulla Sharks at Hunter Stadium.
It was a match that the Knights never trailed in however they only really put the game out of the visitors reach when the captain, Matt Hilder kicked a rare field goal late in the second half.
On a brilliant autumn afternoon in the Hunter, the Knights got off to the perfect start when a fifth tackle kick that looked far too big off the boot cannoned into the upright and bounced back into the hands of the Newcastle chasers. After several players handled, the ball finally ended up back in the hands of the man who originally kicked the ball, Danny Kerr, for the halfback to dive over.
The home side then extended their advantage to ten when Honeti Tuha made a searching run down the Sharks left hand defence and eventually found a wide open Mantellato who simply caught the ball and dived over.
It took the best part of the opening 20 minutes for the visitors to get a foothold in a game that was obviously carrying some special significance for the home team given the emotion surrounding the club and their teammate Alex McKinnon over the past week.
But finally after some 21 minutes, it was a former Knight in Kurt Mann who struck for the Sharks after he chimed on to a beautiful Manumalealii ball to reduce the deficit to six.
The two sides then really settled into a gritty arm wrestle for the next ten minutes or so until they both traded tries in the lead up to the half time break.
First it was Houston for the Knights who sprinted some 20 metres to the corner after a beautiful Randell ball put him into space and then it was Manumalealii who was the beneficiary as a fifty fifty ball by Fifita close to the line.
Leading by just the six points at the main break, the Knights started the better of the two in the second stanza and after some 15 minutes Tetevano showed some real class when he was able to hit and spin close to the line and put it on a platter for the fullback in Tuha who was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on his forwards good work.
Try as they might, the Sharks just couldn’t eat into the lead and when Matt Hilder slotted a brilliant field goal in the 69th minute there was simply no way back for last year’s premiers.
David Fifita crossed in the final moments for the visitors to put some respectability back into the scoreboard however it was a well-deserved result for the Knights in the end.
It was also an important win for the Knights as they will be gifted two competition points this weekend courtesy of the bye while the Sharks will be looking to avoid a third consecutive loss this Saturday when they host a Warriors side still looking for their first win of 2014.
Newcastle Knights 23 (D Kerr, J Mantellato, C Houston, H Tuha tries; J Mantellato 3 goals; M Hilder field goal) def. Cronulla Sharks 16 (K Mann, P Manumalealii, D Fifita tries; K Mann 2 goals) at Hunter Stadium.