Inspired Knights shut out Sharks

The Newcastle Knights and the Hunter community rose as one for injured back-rower Alex McKinnon as the Knights shut out the Cronulla Sharks 30-0 for their first win of the season.

On what would prove to be a touching day at Hunter Stadium in front of 18,196 fans, a first half hat-trick from Knights centre Joey Leilua and outstanding performances from the likes of halfback Tyrone Roberts and the returning Darius Boyd handed winless Cronulla their fourth straight defeat to kick off the season.

Warmed by a rousing minute of applause for McKinnon, the Knights started off proceedings with all guns blazing – bullocking winger Akuila Uate starting off a passage of play that would lead to back-rower Robbie Rochow dropping the ball over the line within the first three minutes. Not that it hindered the Knights from continuing on their merry way.

Leilua crossed for his first try of the season – and the game – after some handy lead up work by Roberts in the ninth minute that set up an early 4-0 advantage for the home side.

It took only another three minutes for the Knights to continue on their attacking raid at the Sharks right-hand defence. Roberts was at it again, throwing a sublime ball in assisting Rochow on his way to a 20-metre run downfield to record his side’s second try of the afternoon.

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Off the back of a Sharks penalty that saw front-rower Sam Tagataese put on report for a late shoulder charge, the Knights extended their lead to 14, with Leilua busting his way over again through Cronulla’s right-edge defence for his second of the afternoon.

In what would prove a one-sided first 20 minutes, with the Knights holding 57 per cent of possession, the Sharks would continue to shoot themselves in the foot – scrappy errors and questionable last tackle options keeping the away side off the scoreboard.

With eight minutes left in the first half, Leilua would prove that his first two tries were no fluke – securing a first half hat-trick and causing further pain for his opposite centre Blake Ayshford.

Boyd capped off a brilliant first-half performance for the Knights in the dying stages of the term with another try on the left edge to secure a 26-0 half-time lead.

Cronulla continued their luckless run in the second half when Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney threw a forward pass after making a 60-metre break, in what was building to be a promising play. Injuries to Michael Gordon and Siosaia Vave and a concern over Andrew Fifita’s arm further cruelled the Sharks.

After conceding seven penalties and nine errors in the first 65 minutes of the game, the Sharks had no answers to the constant Newcastle pressure; although it took until the 71st minute for the Knights to cross the white stripe again.

Livewire halfback Roberts weaved and waved his way from the scrum to cross in the corner for his side’s sixth try on what sealed a perfect afternoon for Newcastle fans in a highly-charged fixture.

Newcastle Knights 30 (Leilua 3, Rochow, Boyd, Roberts tries; Roberts 3 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 0. Crowd: 18,196