Kalyn Ponga returned to his points-scoring best with a dominant hand in the Knights' 44-4 victory over the Wests Tigers on Saturday night.
After losing to the Eels and then Bulldogs at home the Knights gave the Hunter faithful something to cheer about. Some of that encouragement was loudest whenever Ponga touched the ball.
His two tries, two try assists, and six goals were the backbone of his side's tally.
But it was his exquisite entries into the attack – three line breaks and several crisp cut-out passes while running for over 240 metres – that revived memories of why Queensland coach Kevin Walters gave him an Origin jersey back in 2018.
The win moved the Knights deeper into the eight at sixth spot, and snapped a two-game losing streak. While Ponga is always a joy to watch, the jolting runs by David Klemmer, Jacob Saifiti, Mitch Barnett and Lachlan Fitzgibbon can't be under-estimated in a win of this size.
Match: Knights v Wests Tigers
Round 13 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
As the clock ticked down the final few minutes, the small 2952 crowd sounded a lot bigger as they chanted the familiar "New-castle! New-castle!" in fine voice.
For Wests Tigers, they seem to have retreated into their den after the 48-0 thumping they gave the Broncos in round 10 with three straight losses since.
They remain two wins out of the eight but the 40-point loss is a big hit to their for-and-against, which comes to the fore at finals time.
In round two last March, the Knights spanked the Wests Tigers 42-24 at their beloved Leichhardt Oval. Any thoughts of revenge at McDonald Jones Stadium evaporated quickly among the eight-try haul by Adam O'Brien's men.
Ponga beats Marshall on the outside
By gaining Blake Green's signature the Knights halves' NRL experience has now rocketed to 462 games, with Green's 173 and Pearce's 289. Of course that was topped by a combined 500 games for the Wests Tigers with Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence celebrating 250 each.
However the match was only nine minutes old when Green announced his arrival at his seventh NRL club. After six try assists with the Warriors this year, he had his first for the Knights after sending an inside pass to Ponga.
Four minutes later and he sent a bomb skywards that eventually found its way into Barnett's hands. He flicked a pass back as he was pulled to the ground, which led to Hymel Hunt scoring untouched.
A penalty by Ponga and it was 14-0. A couple more errors from the Wests Tigers, another try to the Knights through winger Starford To'a, and it was 18-0.
The Marshall-Lawrence celebration was not going well.
Finally, with five minutes left in the half, a bit of luck came the visitors' way. A Marshall grubber ricocheted off a Knight's player's legs and into the path of Luciano Leilua to score.
Ponga puts To'a over
But that spurt of fortune abandoned them, when the Bunker ruled Saifiti had scored after replays appeared to show he grounded the ball just short of the line and then advanced it.
Still, leading 24-4 at half-time, the result of that decision wasn't going to sway the match. The Wests Tigers had made seven errors already and the Knights were completing at 91%. By full-time the visitors had bumped their error count up to 14 and missed 31 tackles.
Shibasaki joins the party for Newcastle
After the break, things continued at a high octane pace for the Knights in the second half.
A flat pass from Pearce in the 43rd minute found Herman Ese'ese, who bumped off Marshall and Joey Leilua to score his team's fifth try. The sixth came just minutes later, when Ponga scored his second.
Tries seven and eight then unfolded for Gehamat Shibasaki and Phoenix Crossland – his first in the NRL – to ensure a night not to remember for the Concord Oval-based club.
O'Brien said the addition of Green into the Knights spine at No.6 has lifted everyone.
"I thought Mitchell [Pearce] and Blake, Kalyn and Kurt [Mann] really laid a good platform. They looked really neat and tidy out there – Kalyn in particular I thought he was outstanding," O'Brien sad.
"For their first game, they all complemented each other – all freed each other up."
Green and Ponga spark combination early
Pearce only had one session with Green, and only met him two days ago.
"What a super player Greenie is and what a great pick-up for us," Pearce said. "In the short time I've met him you can tell what a good guy he is.
"I've heard such good raps on him from other players at other clubs and he is really calm, really smart.
"Obviously he takes pressure [off me] with kicking. Greenie is quite a dominant player so there's some adjustments I can make to my game and hopefully I can assist him with his strengths as well."