On a miserable night in the Hunter, the St George Illawarra Dragons handed the Newcastle Knights their first defeat of the 2015 season with a 13-0 win to take home the inaugural Alex McKinnon Cup.
In a fixture paying tribute to the injured former Knight and Dragon McKinnon, it was the visitors who stood tall in the wet, continuing their commendable defensive performances of late. They have now conceded only one try in their past 220 minutes of play.
A huge wind and pouring rain dominated proceedings and it was Dragons' five-eighth Gareth Widdop who handled it best, particularly in the second half, as the Red V took their third straight victory.
A constant stream of sideways play in good territory characterised Newcastle's attacking fortunes, who
It was just the second time in the past 25 years the Knights had failed to score a single point at home.
Their struggles in attack were on show throughout the game and while the home team was well in control of proceedings in the early stages it was the Dragons who opened the scoring in the 16th minute when Eto Nabuli crossed in the corner.
The Dragons' good field position had come as a result of a high tackle on Tyson Frizell by Newcastle's Tariq Sims – in his first game since completing a five-game suspension – which saw the new Knight placed on report.
Some magic from Dragons centre Dylan Farrell just five minutes out from half-time almost saw Frizell cross for his team's second try. Chasing down a kick, the back-rower outpaced some of Newcastle's quick outside backs but couldn't ground the ball cleanly inside the dead ball line.
A careless high tackle on Widdop from Newcastle's Chris Houston would bring further relief for the Dragons, with the five-eighth able to recover to slot a penalty goal in the 38th minute to give his side a 6-0 halftime lead.
The Knights' woes were compounded when enforcer Beau Scott limped off midway through the second half, and the hosts continued to fail to get on the scoreboard despite numerous opportunities.
The match was effectively put out of reach in the 63rd minute when Josh Dugan carried Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts over the line to score for his first try of the season and push the Dragons out to a 12-point lead.
Akuila Uate tried his best to run around the Dragons' defence on the first tackle of a set with 12 minutes remaining but was bundled into touch by Joel Thompson in what summed up Newcastle's disappointing attacking choices throughout.
A field goal from Benji Marshall in the 71st minute pushed the Dragons out to a 13-point lead in what proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Newcastle, though the sight of Josh Dugan limping off in the final three minutes remained a concern for the Red V.
St George Illawarra Dragons 13 (Eto Nabuli, Josh Dugan Tries; Gareth Widdop 2 Goals; Benji Marshall Field Goal) defeat Newcastle Knights 0. Crowd: 14,261. Half-time: Dragons 6-0. On report: 14th minute: Tariq Sims (Knights) – high tackle.