After weeks of pulling off the impossible, Cronulla were on the receiving end of a diabolical NRL comeback at Remondis Stadium against Newcastle.
Comeback kings the Cronulla Sharks got a taste of their own medicine on Sunday as Newcastle turned around an 18-point deficit to win 31-18 at Remondis Stadium.
Piling on 31 unanswered points to win their third-straight match, the Knights head into their final eight matches with six home games and the slightest glimmer of hope that they could make the finals.
After the Sharks staged monster revivals from 22-0 and 24-0 down the past two weeks, Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett said he didn’t actually mind the idea of trailing the miracle workers 18-6 at halftime.
In his 700th game as an NRL coach, Bennett told his players at the break they had the Sharks right where they wanted them.
“It might have been my best,” said Bennett of his halftime words of wisdom.
“To be perfectly honest I wasn’t overly disappointed in one sense. Hopefully lull them into a false sense of security.
“I’ve got no doubt at 18-0 they thought it was all over.”
Jeff Robson, Michael Gordon and Sosaia Feki crossed for the first tries Cronulla have posted in the opening 40 minutes of a match since May 17 to set up the likelihood that the Sharks could finally win a match in conventional fashion.
But after winning the unwinnable against Brisbane and the Sydney Roosters, it was the Sharks’ turn to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The hunters of the NRL became the hunted.
“It hurts,” said interim coach, James Shepherd.
“The feeling in the shed then is the complete opposite of what we felt last week.
“If any team should know about momentum, it’s us.”
Despite a gale-force breeze, seven of the eight tries scored in the game were against the wind.
However, the turning point came from the one try that did go with the conditions – scored by Willie Mason two minutes before halftime.
It was the set after Cronulla had shot to 18-0 up, and returning Sharks prop Andrew Fifita coughed up possession off the restart.
Mason was picked up on the Channel Nine microphones saying “Get the f***ing camera out of my face” after he walked back from scoring – and the Knights all of a sudden meant business. The wheels were in motion.
“That try was crucial. That’s what happens when you’re clocking off,” said Bennett, who dismissed any suggestion his mid-week announcement he was leaving the club had an effect on the Knights’ sub-standard start.
“I don’t think it’s been difficult at all. We’ve had more difficult weeks than this one,” he said.
Jarrod Mullen and Kurt Gidley were instrumental in the epic turnaround, with both halves bagging a try and setting up one each.
The Knights, Sharks and Canberra were locked in equal last position on Sunday morning, but a lovely short pass from Gidley to Beau Scott put Newcastle in front for the first time in the 64th minute and consigned Cronulla to outright last on the ladder – after the Raiders upset the Gold Coast.
Also crucial in the result was Paul Gallen (bicep) and Wade Graham (shoulder) leaving the field in the 50th minute for treatment – with three tries scored before the skipper returned.