Cronulla showed no immediate ill-effects from their salary cap dramas, punishing Newcastle 30-6 in the final pre-season trial for both teams at Maitland Sportsground on Saturday.
Still coming to terms with the $1.25million salary cap fine imposed on Friday, and the need to shed players under a reduced cap for the next two seasons, the Sharks led 18-0 at half-time and extended that to 30-0 by the 52nd minute.
Rookie coach John Morris had the luxury of allowing big guns Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan to watch the second half from the sideline, and high-profile recruits Shaun Johnson and Josh Morris joined them to enjoy the final stages of a comfortable victory.
Gallen played the first 35 minutes, Fifita and Moylan played the first half, and Dugan was replaced in the 20th minute after mistiming a tackle on Mitchell Pearce.
Match: Knights v Sharks
Round 3 -
Venue: Maitland Sports Ground
The Sharks feasted on Newcastle’s mistakes to lead 18-0 at half-time, courtesy of converted tries by Dugan, Morris and Fifita.
In his first appearance in Cronulla colours, Johnson combined with Moylan on the right edge to send Dugan over for the opening try in the sixth minute. The New Zealand international and former Warriors playmaker converted for a 6-0 lead.
A dazed Dugan was replaced midway through the first half after he charged in to tackle Pearce but came off second best.
Newcastle made too many handling errors to build any sustained pressure in attack, even when they earned four straight penalties between the 30th and 33rd minutes.
Fullback Connor Watson and centre Sione Mata’utia were both guilty of several handling errors, and Kalyn Ponga had few opportunities to shine in his new position at five-eighth.
Watson could not clean up Moylan’s chip kick in the 27th minute and Morris pounced to score Cronulla’s second try, which Johnson converted.
Proving a handful in the middle of the field, Fifita played the entire first half and was rewarded for his efforts when he charged over to score close to the posts in the 38th minute.
It was a try reminiscent of the one he scored in the 2016 grand final, and gave the Sharks an 18-0 lead after Johnson added the extras from in front.
The Knights were under more pressure early in the second half after another mistake coming off their line, and the Sharks responded with tries by Sione Katoa in the right-hand corner and Chad Townsend up the middle.
The only real highlight for a disappointing Newcastle outfit was a try out of nothing by 18-year-old Australian Schoolboys sensation Starford Toa in the 58th minute.
Toa had only just come on to replace Kurt Mann on the right wing and with his first touch, created space for himself with some fancy footwork and scooted away to score in the corner. Ponga converted from the sideline.
It was Cronulla’s second pre-season victory after a 28-22 win against Manly at Shark Park seven days earlier. Newcastle went down 18-10 to the Dragons at WIN Stadium in their first trial last Saturday.