Newcastle fullback Dane Gagai had to be consoled by teammate Tariq Sims after Cronulla savaged the hopelessly-outclassed Knights in a record 62-0 romp at Hunter Stadium.
The Sharks raced in 11 tries to nil on Sunday, equalling the biggest winning margin in their history and handing the Knights their worst-ever loss in Newcastle, surpassing a 50-0 defeat by Parramatta in 2005 amid a club-record 13-game losing streak.
It was a brutal lesson for a Knights side desperately short on experience and fielding the youngest halves pairing in their history, with 18-year-old Jack Cogger on debut replacing Trent Hodkinson (knee) alongside 19-year-old Brock Lamb.
Cogger became the 10th player blooded by coach Nathan Brown this season.
The one-sided affair brought tears after the siren from Gagai, who became a father earlier in the week and had family members in the crowd of 16,150 for the game played as part of the NRL’s Indigenous Round.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially at home before our fans and in Indigenous Round [with] so much to play for,” said the two-time Indigenous All-Stars representative.
Cronulla’s seventh straight win took them to second place on the ladder, behind leaders Brisbane only on percentage and also tied on 16 points with third-placed Melbourne.
Their previous biggest win was a 68-6 massacre of Manly in 2005 and, until Sunday, their most lopsided victory over Newcastle was 64-14 set in 2002.
Right winger Valentine Holmes scored four tries, including three in the first 26 minutes, to fall one short of the club record of five achieved twice by their most capped player Andrew Ettingshausen.
Left winger Sosaia Feki grabbed a treble, veteran back-rower Luke Lewis bagged a brace, and Ben Barba and Wade Graham crossed for one each.
Five-eighth James Maloney enhanced his chances of a NSW Origin recall with nine goals from 11 attempts and a classy performance calling the shots.
Sunday’s battering was last-placed Newcastle’s second-worst loss, behind only a 71-6 thrashing from Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium in 2007, displacing a 53-0 loss to the Broncos at Suncorp on April 16 this year.
They were held scoreless for the second straight match after going down 38-0 to Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on April 30, making it a combined 100-0 against in their past two games.
Including their 53-0 loss to Brisbane and a 26-10 loss to Manly at Hunter Stadium on Anzac Day, the Knights have now been outscored 179-10 in their past four games.
“Look, there’s going to be tough days, and I knew that before I took the job on,” said first-year Knights coach Brown, whose run-on side included seven players aged 20 or younger.
“Obviously there’s injuries, and I think the guys have shown on numbers of occasions this year when we’ve put enough experience on the field with the younger kids, we’ve had some periods of games where we’ve competed better and at home we’ve had a draw and a win.
“Today at home is obviously not a great one, and we’d like to do well everywhere but in particular at home.
“But if you dropped four or five really good, experienced first-graders in amongst the team out there today in certain positions, I’m sure we’d have been far more formidable.
“But most things we do at the moment are long-term based.”
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan was pleased his side kept the Knights scoreless in “a result you could never predict”.
But Sharks skipper Paul Gallen admitted he felt for the Knights, having been on teams on the wrong end of similar scores earlier in his career.
“We’ve had years like that before at Cronulla, 2009 and 2010, where you know you need everyone in your side to play their best game and you need the opposition to not play well,” said Gallen.
“I’ve got a bit of sympathy for them, for their coaching staff, but at the end of the day they’re not my worry. We came in to do a job and we did it.”