With injured teammate Alex McKinnon in the back of their minds as inspiration, the Newcastle Knights surged to a commanding 30-0 victory over the Cronulla Sharks at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
In an emotional match for the Club, the home side proved too strong on the back of a dominant first half display.
The Knights led 26-0 at the break and continued that dominance in the second half to record their first win for the season.
Centre Joey Leilua snared a hat-trick, while winger Aku Uate was devastating in defence and attack.
While Newcastle piled on plenty of points, the team’s forward pack deserves praise for setting up the win.
Back-rower Robbie Rochow came up with several big plays, while Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith, Willie Mason and Beau Scott were all strong.
The Knights will now return to training, before taking on the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville next Monday night.
Newcastle made one change before kick-off with Darius Boyd named at fullback in his first match since suffering a hamstring injury against Penrith in the opening round.
Emotions were high prior to the match with the crowd rising as one in honour of McKinnon.
The Knights players and coach Wayne Bennett also formed a team huddle in the middle of the ground.
Fuelled by this emotion, the home side opened the scoring in the 9th minute with centre Joey Leilua barging over out wide for his first try of the season.
Halfback Tyrone Roberts and Boyd combined well to send Leilua over.
Roberts missed the conversion, but it was the Knights who had an early 4-0 lead.
Newcastle was full of running and extended their advantage just in the 12th minute via back-rower Robbie Rochow.
The Maitland-born forward was the beneficiary of a brilliant face ball from Roberts to run 35 metres and score.
Roberts added the extras to give the home side a 10-0 lead.
Sharks forward Sam Tagataese was placed on report in the 13th minute for a late shot on Roberts.
On the back of the penalty, Newcastle scored again thanks to a determined run from Leilua.
The Samoan World Cup representative beat four defenders to barge his way over the line.
Roberts missed the conversion, but the Knights were in control leading 14-0 with 22 minutes left in the first half.
Newcastle looked to have added to their advantage in the 22nd minute, but Boyd knocked the ball on before forward Adam Cuthbertson dived on the loose ball.
The Knights remained calm though and Leilua grabbed his third try for the afternoon in the 31st minute with a determined run to the line.
Roberts converted from the sideline and Newcastle had a commanding 20-0 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the first half.
Cronulla proved their own worst enemies with poor control and the home side punished them with another try on the stroke of the halftime break.
Boyd carried three defenders over the line to score and cap off a strong first half showing with the Knights in control leading 26-0 at the break.
Cronulla looked destined to score just after the halftime break via Todd Carney.
Carney intercepted a Newcastle pass from 20 metres out from his own line and raced away, but was run down by back-rower Robbie Rochow.
It was a brilliant play by Rochow, who forced Carney to pass the ball forward.
Newcastle had a number of chances to score in the second half, but couldn’t convert due to some strong Cronulla defence.
This changed in the 71st minute when Roberts did it all himself with a scintillating solo try from 35 metres out.
The Ballina-born No.7 missed the kick, but it was the home side that had a comprehensive 30-0 lead with just seven minutes remaining.
Newcastle would maintain this advantage to the full-time siren to secure a dominant win.