Coach Wayne Bennett said Newcastle’s much anticipated new era was finally taking shape after their 32-6 thumping of NRL premiers Manly at Hunter Stadium.
Expectations have been high in the Hunter since seven-time premiership winning coach Bennett joined the Knights for the 2012 season but until the last month of football, the side, and their loyal fans, have suffered through a very trying season.
Despite Bennett preaching the importance of patience upon joining the Knights, the 1997 and 2001 premiers were installed as top four probables when the supercoach took over.
Things haven’t turned out that way, and while Bennett downplayed his team’s finals hopes following the win, he said he was impressed by their last month of football which has yielded three wins from four games.
“Three of the last four weeks we have played pretty fair football, it would be nice if it was four out of four but three out of four is pretty good,” Bennett said.
“They knew they had to aim up and they made sure of that with that wonderful spirit they do have.”
The effort was led by rookie halfback Tyrone Roberts, who scored a try and had a hand in two others, and captain Danny Buderus, who with a team-high 42 tackles was the cornerstone of a strong Newcastle defensive display.
The Knights recorded just their seventh win of the season and finally provided their fans with something to cheer about.
“When you challenge a football team you like to think the courage and character come out and tonight it did,” Buderus said.
“There’s been a lot of bad losses, so any win for us at the moment is a good win. At the end of the day (that spirit) comes from within.
“… We were disappointed with how we played last week (a 34-14 loss to South Sydney) and wanted to make up for it.”
The Knights opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a try to Akuila Uate, who finished the night with two tries as did fellow winger James McManus.
They led 10-0 at halftime after Roberts danced his way through the Manly goal-line defence just before the break.
The home side stretched their lead to 22-0 after an hour on the back of second half tries to Dane Gagai before Manly finally got on the scoreboard with a Brent Kite four-pointer in the 62nd minute.
But the Knights ran away with the game from there as both McManus and Uate scored their second tries of the night, Uate’s a superb 50m effort in which he beat a host of Sea Eagles defenders.
Manly were without Brett and Glenn Stewart and lost Steve Matai, who was one of a host of Sea Eagles troubled by flu during the week, but coach Geoff Toovey and captain Jamie Lyon refused to use that as an excuse.
“Our attack wasn’t too crash hot and our defence wasn’t either. It was disappointing. We knew we were in for it tonight. We knew they would be up for it,” Lyon said.