Cronulla cruise into the finals as Paul Gallen sends a message with a strong performance over a spirited Newcastle outfit who have recorded their third straight wooden spoon.
Sharks building premiership defence
Cronulla were guaranteed fifth spot in the Telstra Premiership ladder heading into the clash but the Sharks did enough to prove their premiership defence was in full swing.
After publicly declaring they're comfortable to take on the heavyweights from outside the top four, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan admitted the side had one eye on the opening week of the finals.
"Tricky game for us, we wanted to play well and got off to a good start at 18-0," Flanagan said.
"We were dominant early on and they're a spirited team.
"Overall I was reasonably happy and everyone was looking to next week a little bit.
"We've got senior players that know what's around the corner."
Gallen reaches new heights
Paul Gallen churned out a season-high 303 metres in a game considered to be a dead rubber with fifth spot wrapped up.
It was a remarkable effort from the Sharks skipper who steamrolled his way through the Knights defence with seven offloads.
Newcastle fought their way back from a 14-point deficit in the second half and Gallen was filthy to be given a breather.
"He didn't need to come off, even though he is 40 he can still play 80 minutes," Flanagan joked post-game of Gallen.
"Jayson Bukuya was injured so he quickly went back out there."
Gallen put the longevity of his season down to retiring from representative football.
"Not having the stress [of State of Origin] has been huge," Gallen said.
"As much as I loved it, my time was up and I noticed the weight lifted off my shoulders."
Home crowd a credit to Newcastle
They have finished last in each of the last three seasons but that hasn't stopped the Knights from averaging crowds of almost 16,000 this season – the fourth highest of any club in the Telstra Premiership.
Newcastle's final home game attracted a crowd of 20,535 despite coming after heavy back-to-back losses against the Storm and Raiders.
"I couldn't believe it when Gids (Knights CEO Matt Gidley) was saying the ticket sales have been the best they've been all year," Brown said post-game.
"I know it's Old Boys Day and the Knights do it better than anyone but to get over 20,000 when you're playing a side where no one gave us a chance of beating is unbelievable.
"That's why now that Wests have taken over there is a big scope to become a powerful club because you've got a fan base that will turn up under all circumstances."
Knights receive unwanted history
Three years of finishing last is not ideal for any club or their supporter base and the Knights have become the first club since the Gold Coast Chargers in 1991-1993 to claim three on the trot.
The club was rocked with the Jarrod Mullen drugs saga in January, while also losing key recruit Rory Kostjaysn to what turned out to be a career-ending throat injury before a ball was kicked, and fullback Dylan Phythian to a season-ending injury in Round 1.
Brown was upbeat about the team's prospects of improving next season.
"I'm very confident we will make strides again next year," Brown said.
"If we had a bit of luck with Mullo, Rory and Dylan Phythian, I would have expected us in tighter games to do better.
"On what happened to us last year, this year has been built on those kids once again."
Debutants unearthed for future
It was a day out to remember for both Knights prop Tyrone Amey and Sharks centre Jesse Ramien in their first appearances in the top grade.
The pair made lasting impressions for their respective sides with Ramien crossing for a second half try and Amey setting up Lachlan Fitzgibbon for the Knights' first of the afternoon.
With injured Sharks centre Jack Bird no guarantee of lining up for the premiers against the Cowboys next week and joining the Broncos next season, Ramien looked at home in the right centre position and chalked up 112 metres with two line breaks.