WHAT has been touted as the biggest weekend in Newcastle’s sporting history kicked off in anti-climactic fashion on Friday night when South Sydney beat the Knights 36-18 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
At the same venue on Saturday night, the Newcastle Jets will host Melbourne Victory in a sold-out A-League grand final expected to attract a crowd of 30,000-plus.
TRY TIME: Souths five-eighth Cody Walker scores against Newcastle. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP
Combine that with Friday night’s attendance of 22,718, and a collective tally of around 53,000spectators will have ventured through the turnstiles within the space of 24 hours.
The Novocastrian faithful will be hoping the Knights’ performance was not an omen as the Jets chasetheir first title in 10 years.
It was the Rabbitohs’ ninth consecutive win against Newcastle, a streak dating back to 2012.
Souths and the Knights scored three tries apiece before half-time, but the home teamtrailed 16-12 after missing every shot at goal.
Souths burst out of the blocks with tries by winger Robert Jennings and five-eighth Cody Walker in the first five minutes, both times exposing alarmingly soft defence.
Newcastle, chasing their third successive win, hit back in the 12thminute when winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall burst clear deep in his own territory, then finished off a try at the other end of the field.
The visitors reasserted their ascendancy in the 24thminute when rookie winger Campbell Graham scored in the corner after a cut-out pass from Adam Reynolds.
The Knights rallied late in the first half. In the 36thminute, centre Sione Mata’utia crashed through a Greg Inglis tackle to score, then they kept the ball alive after the half-time siren sounded and created an overlap for Kenny-Dowall to cross again.
The momentum swung dramatically early in the second half when Newcastle winger Ken Sio appeared to have scored, only to lose the ball in a desperate Angus Crichton tackle as he tried to improve his position nearer to the posts.
In the following set of tackles, Reynolds hoisted a bomb, Sio was unable to catch it, and former Knight Dane Gagai pounced on the loose ball to score.
Reynolds’ conversion made it 22-12 to Souths, when Newcastle could easily have been leading had Sio scored.
Ten minutes later, Souths hooker Damien Cook exploded out of dummy-half to score and push his case for a NSW Origin jersey.
Two Reynolds penalty goals put the result beyond question, before Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga created a consolation try for Lachlan Fitzgibbon with a trademark short ball.
Champion Souths centre Greg Inglis scored his fifth try in six games from a set play in the 78thminute.