An impressive 32 points to 20 win over defending Intrust Super Premiership NSW Premiers Illawarra has seen the Newcastle Knights secure their sixth win over the season, the first since their Round 10 win over Mounties.
Racing out to an early 12-0 lead, the Knights went into the half-time sheds trailing by two, before rallying to score 20-unanswered second-half points to shore up their place in the Premiership’s all-important Top 8.
Knights fullback Nick Meaney - though not to bag a four-pointer of his own - proved the difference on the afternoon, laying on four tries for his side in what was a dominant performance with ball in hand.
An early error by Luciano Leilua set the tone for Illawarra’s afternoon, who were asked to defend their goal line inside the match’s opening five minutes.
A slick backline shift by the Knights – sparked by True Blue Trent Hodkinson – had the visitors over for their first, and it was winger Tom Hughes who touched down for points.
Hodkinson made no mistake from the touchline, taking the score to 6-0.
Errors cruelled the hosts’ hopes of an immediate response, and with four drop-balls inside the opening quarter of an hour, Mat Head’s men were again made to pay for their carelessness with ball in hand.
Newcastle took full advantage of their gift possession, with Thomas Cronan equalling the feats of his wing partner, collecting a deft Hodkinson kick to score the side’s second.
Again, the halfback had no troubles turning four into six from out wide, extending the Knights margin to an even dozen.
A run of five consecutive penalties to Illawarra proved the catalyst for their first-half revival, with winger Izaac Thompson the first to find the line for the hosts.
A perfectly worked backline play had the big winger in for four points, though Illawarra half Shaun Nona couldn’t replicate the kicking feats of his opposite number in Hodkinson.
Down by eight though full of energy on the back of points, Illawarra again found the line, second time around courtesy of electric fullback, Matt Dufty.
Dufty’s speed and strength from a scrum play left Knights centre Corey Denniss clutching at air, lessening the deficit to four.
Five-eighth Jai Field assumed the kicking duties from Nona in the wake of the first attempt on goal, though the change of personnel didn’t bring about a change of fortunes for the Illawarra side.
A strike he’d rather forget, Field’s wayward shot on goal saw the score remain at 12-8, in favour of the Knights.
Completing a remarkable come-from-behind effort to lead at the break, Field offset his effort from the tee with a dashing intercept, scooting near on 70 metres untouched to score the side’s third-straight try.
Field made no mistake second time around, and from in front of the uprights, sent his side to a 14-12 front, which would remain at the sound of the half-time siren.
Returning for the second half minus their injured halfback in Nona, Illawarra were immediately on the back foot at the change of ends.
Lacking direction and execution at the end of their sets, Illawarra also found themselves again behind on the scoreboard – the second-half starting much the same as the first did, with Knights fullback Nick Meaney sending Hughes in for a try.
Hodkinson’s blemish-free afternoon with the boot came to an end; the conversion sailed side to see the score remain at 18-14, the Knights playing from in front as they did to open the contest.
Meaney soon had his third try assist of the afternoon, a darting run through the heart of the Illawarra pack the prelude to an ice-cool pass to his five-eighth Jack Cogger who crossed for a try under the posts.
Hodkinson slotted the extras, as the Knights shot out to an 8-point lead.
As was the pattern of play throughout much of the 80 minutes, Meaney continued in his ways, again sending over his winger Hughes to complete his hat-trick.
The Illawarra defence had no answers to the Knights’ backline shift, with Hughes sent into space and touching down for his third try of the afternoon.
Hodkinson’s shot on goal was held up in the blustery conditions at Kogarah, as Newcastle held on to a 12-point lead with 15 minutes to play.
An incisive run by centre Chanel Mata’utia put the icing on the cake for the visitors, the side’s sixth try of the afternoon sealing an impressive 12-point win at Kogarah.
Illawarra’s Thompson nabbed a late consolation try in the 78th minute for the hosts, though his efforts were in vain, as the full-time siren sounded with the Knights proving too good on the afternoon.
Newcastle Knights 32 (Hughes 3, Cronan, Cogger, C. Mata’utia tries; Hodkinson 4 goals) def. Illawarra RLFC 20 (Thompson 2, Dufty, Field tries; Field 2 goals)