The Newcastle Knights have demolished the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in a fiery, high-scoring encounter at McDonald Jones Stadium that saw Cronulla half Chad Townsend sent off in the second half.
Cronulla’s finals hopes now appear uncertain as the 38-10 loss provides the in-form Warriors with the opportunity to move within one win of the top eight.
The Sharks will also be sweating on the availability of Wade Graham, Toby Rudolf and Braden Hamlin-Uele, who will all join Townsend at the judiciary this week.
David Klemmer was denied an early try by the bunker as the Newcastle forward failed to clean up a kick that ricocheted off the upright.
Instead, the Sharks scored first through Ronaldo Mulitalo, who capitalised on an error from Kalyn Ponga to score his sixth try of the season.
It took the Knights less than four minutes to hit back, with Kurt Mann throwing a succulent cutout ball for Starford To’a to score on a clinical short-side raid.
— NRL (@NRL) September 4, 2020
The Knights doubled their advantage four minutes later through Kalyn Ponga, who beat four would-be-tackles to score his first career try against Cronulla.
Starford To’a then scored his second of the night by grounding a Mason Lino grubber kick to extend the lead to ten points.
Despite the attacking onslaught, Kalyn Ponga’s goal-kicking woes continued throughout the first twenty minutes and the star fullback was eventually replaced by Mason Lino.
Lino extended the lead to twelve points after an ugly spear tackle from Wade Graham and Toby Rudolf.
Not satisfied with a twelve point advantage going into the break, Kalyn Ponga once again dismantled Cronulla’s right-side defence to score his second of the night and extend the scoreline to 22-4.
Both sides struggled to gain any momentum through the first fifteen minutes of the second period, but the game erupted when Chad Townsend was controversially sent off for a shoulder charge on Kalyn Ponga.
Townsend becomes the second player to be sent off in 2020 after Kevin Proctor’s bite on Shaun Johnson in Round 14.
Chad Townsend just tried to murder Ponga ??
?Live blog: https://t.co/yu1USzJi6X
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) September 4, 2020
Townsend’s replacement Connor Tracey wasted no time leaving his mark on the game, scoring a try to reduce the deficit to two converted tries.
However, Kalyn Ponga would put all comeback hopes to bed with his third try of the night.
Josh King then crossed for his first career four-pointer with less than a minute remaining to kickstart the celebrations in the Hunter.
Post-match, Cronulla coach John Morris described the match as a ‘nightmare’ for his squad right from the opening kickoff, which sailed out on the full.
“I didn’t think I’d be in this position apologising to our fans, but I have to after that,” said Morris.
(Our performance) was so outside of the standards that we set ourselves at the club.”
Knights coach Adam O’Brien was pleased with the way in which his players were able to turn the club’s fortunes around after last week’s loss, pointing particular praise to fullback Kalyn Ponga.
“He gets a lot of wraps for how talented he is, and rightfully so, but he’s such a tough kid”, O’Brien replied when asked about what pleased him most about Ponga on the night.
Both clubs will now advance to two crucial clashes next weekend, with Newcastle facing the Roosters in the race for the top four, while Cronulla could secure a finals berth with a win against the Warriors.
NRL News Player of the Game
3 Points – Kalyn Ponga – There was no competition for the Man of the Match honours in this one as Ponga put up a game labelled as ‘one of the best individual performances of the season’. The fullback had three tries, over 220 metres and a whopping thirteen tackle busts.
2 Points – Kurt Mann – The Newcastle utility has been exceptional this year in the five-eighth role, but Adam O’Brien should have no concerns with playing Mann at hooker after tonight’s performance. Played a terrific supporting role with two try-assists to go with thirty-five tackles in the middle of the field.
1 Point – Mitchell Barnett – Barnett has been superb in the lock role and has played eighty minutes in all but one game since his return from injury. He earned himself an early shower tonight with thirty-five tackles, fourteen hit-ups and a try contribution.