Settled Knights return to form
Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has credited a more settled squad facing fewer disruptions for the huge turnaround in form between last week's dire loss to Brisbane and Saturday's huge home win over the Eels.
Newcastle bounced back from their 42-point flogging to Brisbane last week to put the Eels, fresh off beating the ladder-leading Sea Eagles themselves, to the sword in a 42-12 flogging of their own.
Asked about the form reversal, Bennett said it was a matter of things "settling down".
"When we went to Brisbane last week we had two players rubbed out because of the ASADA investigation so we have had a week to think about that," Bennett said after Newcastle's 30 point win.
"When I look back at the season, we started Round 1 without our two key players, Kurt [Gidley] was injured that day and Darius was hurt after 20 minutes as well and they didn't play for four or five weeks and by the time they came back we were struggling a bit... and the list of distractions goes on any time we looked to have any momentum."
With his team running into the wind in the first half, Bennett was glad the Knights were only down by four points at halftime with the wind well and truly on the opposition's side in the opening 40.
Newcastle blew the game open with five tries in a 12 minute period midway through the second half after becoming the benefactors of the swirling wind.
"The breeze can sometimes be something you think you're going to get an advantage out of and you don't – so it was important we capitalised on it in the second half," Bennett said.
"We carted the ball from the back of the field pretty well in the first half... and minimised our errors which helps with the breeze."
Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley was proud to keep the home fans happy after watching his team execute fluently in the final 40 minutes of the game.
"It was awesome to stand behind as a fullback and see the plays that we trained for come off, which we stuck to, and we didn't try and get away from it in the first half and stuck to the game-plan which was good," Gidley said.
"I know over the past month we have been enjoying our footy and doing our home fans proud and all that comes from is more effort to start with. It has been a tough season and all our fans go through all these emotions as well so it is nice to give back to them."
In what will prove to be a memorable debut, Tyler Randell started the game at hooker for Newcastle when Travis Waddell pulled out sick minutes before kick-off. Fresh off a full 80-minute run for the 12-man Knights NSW Cup team, Randell put in an admirable effort which saw him finish the game early due to a nasty head gash.
"He's not well," Bennett said. "But he's pretty happy to be a part of it."
In what has been an otherwise bleak season for the Novocastrians, their 42-12 win over the Eels kept a couple of streaks alive heading into their final clash of the year against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
With seven wins from their past 10 games since snapping a seven-match losing streak earlier in the season, Newcastle extended their winning run at Hunter Stadium to four games while they also beat the Eels for the seventh consecutive time.
Newcastle will be looking to not just continue their home winning streak next Sunday but also snap a four-game losing run against the Dragons when St George Illawarra travel to Hunter Stadium for what will be each side's final game of 2014.