Newcastle’s much-hyped season of resurgence remains mired in mediocrity as the Knights slumped to a 26-18 loss to Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Touted as finals contenders by most pundits during pre-season predictions, Newcastle suffered their fourth successive defeat – including three on home soil – as Manly notched their third straight win.
Newcastle lacked desire and urgency from the outset and never looked like getting back into the contest after conceding three converted tries in the first 20 minutes to trail 18-0.
The Sea Eagles were reduced to 12 men when prop Addin Fonua-Blake was sent to the sin-bin in the 68th minute for a high shot on Mitchell Pearce that forced the Newcastle captain to the sideline for a head-injury assessment (HIA).
Fonua-Blake had scored a try five minutes earlier to extend Manly’s lead to 26-12, then Mitch Barnett pulled one back for Newcastle to reduce the deficit to 26-18.
Manly kicked off short after Barnett’s try and as Pearce prepared for the catch, Fonua-Blake flung out his right arm and made contact with Pearce’s head.
Match: Knights v Sea Eagles
Round 5 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
The Sea Eagles did not concede a point while Fonua-Blake was off the field and, though he returned for the final two minutes, Pearce failed his HIA and took no further part in the game.
Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans celebrated his 200th NRL game with a typically influential performance, controlling the tempo with his astute kicking game while landing five goals from six attempts. His only miss hit the posts.
The Sea Eagles scored three converted tries in the first 20 minutes and dominated the first half to lead 18-6 at the break. Manly out-muscled the Knights in the middle, stretched them on the edges, and punished Newcastle’s litany of handling errors.
Cherry-Evans and five-eighth Kane Elgey combined to create space on the left edge for winger Jorge Taufua to touch down out wide in the fourth minute, then Cherry-Evans converted from the sideline for a 6-0 lead.
It was 12-0 five minutes later when dummy-half Api Koroisau exposed Newcastle’s soft marker defence and scooted away to link with Taufua.
As the left winger was reeled in by opposite number Edrick Lee, he found Reuben Garrick in support and the right winger pushed out of a Danny Levi tackle to score next to the posts.
Already struggling to match Manly’s line speed and urgency in the ruck, the Knights suffered a blow in the 14th minute when fullback Kalyn Ponga was on the receiving end of a Curtis Sironen high shot.
Match Highlights: Knights v Sea Eagles
Though the Knights received a penalty and Sironen was reported, Ponga left the field three minutes later for an HIA and did not return until five minutes before the break.
Manly regained possession after a wayward pass by Knights prop James Gavet, then earned a repeat set by forcing a line drop-out. That allowed Jake Trbojevic to roll in a grubber for back-rower Joel Thompson to score in the 20th minute, and Cherry-Evans converted for an 18-0 lead.
The Knights received five penalties in a five-minute stretch but could not convert their possession advantage into points, and were lucky not to let in another try when Cherry-Evans was penalised for running behind a Manly team-mate close to the Newcastle line.
Lee scored from Ponga’s short grubber kick in the 37th minute to cut the margin to 18-6 by half-time, then Aidan Guerra scored from dummy-half in the 50th minute for Newcastle to pull within six.
But just when it seemed momentum was swinging back to the home team, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Connor Watson made handling errors in the ruck and the Sea Eagles were able to extend their lead to 20-12 with a Cherry-Evans penalty goal in the 57th minute.
The Knights could not take advantage of the extra man while Fonua-Blake was in the sin-bin, then suffered another blow when Guerra was taken from the field in the medicab in the 74th minute after sustaining a suspected broken ankle.
Manly split the Knights up the middle