Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett had another reason to smile following the Knights’ come-from-behind 31-18 victory over the Sharks, coaching in an unprecedented 700th NRL game on Sunday afternoon.
In what was a monumental task for interim Cronulla coach James Shepherd in only his second game of coaching in the top grade, the rookie mentor made it hard for his experienced counterpart with the Knights having to come back from 18-0 down after 37 minutes to score five unanswered tries for the two competition points.
"It might have been my best halftime speech [ever]," Bennett, the seven-time premiership winning coach, joked following Newcastle's win. "At 699 games I probably wasn't as good but at 700 I'm just starting to get an idea of how it all works."
"They turned it around though. They played with a bit more intensity in the second half and they played a bit smarter."
Despite the record-breaking game for Bennett, the veteran coach had serious concerns about his own team's two-game winning streak coming into the game considering the Sharks’ past fortnight of miraculous second stanza comebacks, first against the Brisbane Broncos and then the Sydney Roosters.
"I didn't want to be leading at halftime so to be perfectly honest I wasn't too disappointed that we were down in that sense," Bennett said.
"I was disappointed we weren't playing too smart but we picked it all up in the second half and we got it right."
The circumstances were quite ironic at Remondis Stadium, and Bennett couldn't help but note the Knights did to Cronulla what they have been doing to their opposition in recent weeks.
"I have no doubt that at 18-0 they thought it was all over. They had the game in their hands but [Willie Mason's] try before halftime was crucial," Bennett said.
"It was soft and that's what happens when you're clocking off – as their opponents would have told you over the past couple of weeks."
In what has been busy week for Bennett after signalling his intentions to leave the club at season's end, the master coach didn't think his decision to move on was the cause of his team's slow start to the game.
"There have been more difficult weeks this season alone – this week has been easy."