Welcome back, Joey
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THE Knights celebrated the return of captain Andrew 'Joey' Johns with a resounding 22-4 victory over Cronulla in their final trial match at Coffs Harbour's International Stadium on Saturday night.
Johns made a shock early return from a knee injury to play 20-minutes of the Knights win and within two sets gave a vintage inside pass that helped to set up front rower Craig Smith's try in the second half.
Inspirational skipper Danny Buderus also played just 20-minutes of the match, coach Michael Hagan happy with the output of his two star players just a fortnight ahead of the NRL season start, particularly Johns who had doubts about his availability in the week leading up to the match.
"I think he'd be happy enough to say now that 'I'm a little bit more confident than I may have been in a fortnight going in cold'," he said of his captain's brief run.
"I think everyone else got plenty of work done, the front rowers were strong and they got plenty of work done and I thought Simpson, Newton, Tanner and Reynoldson, they got a fair hit-out as well and I thought Riley Brown was outstanding in his stint at hooker so that's a good plus for us as well."
With Johns and Buderus absent throughout the first half, Hagan was not only pleased with the efforts of Brown but also other members of the the younger brigade.
Kurt Gidley made the most of his lengthy spell at halfback with an industrious display, his grubber kick to brother Matt helped to set up a first half try that sent the Knights on the way to their impressive win.
The younger Gidley and also talented junior Jarrod Mullen at five-eighth showed that the Knights can still score points this season if worse comes to worse and they find themselves without their key playmakers on the park.
"I guess we're going to be in that situation perhaps this year at times," he said.
"I think Kurt Gidley is doing a great job leading the team around the field and then Jarrod Mullen was playing not a senior role but just learning the ropes a bit, so it has been a real good week from our point of view."
British recruit Brian Carney showed he will slot nicely into the Knights backline on the wing crossing for two tries down the right hand side with some help from centre Matt Gidley.
"He's busy mate and I think he would've enjoyed playing alongside Matt (Gidley) tonight and he's getting a bit more confidence," the coach enthused.
"He's been a great character in the last week in our team so all that stuff is pretty positive too, both on and off the field."
Cronulla, meanwhile, had little to smile about after an abysmal performance, particularly with their ball handling skills.
Coach Stuart Raper couldn't hide his disappointment after the match at the number of times his team failed to turn good field position into points with 18 handling errors the main culprit.
"We just dropped too much ball and there were comments afterwards that 'Newcastle had good speed to the line' and 'Newcastle got up in our faces' but they did that because they were fresh and because they would've made half the amount of tackles we had to make," he lamented.
"You give blokes like Andrew Johns enough football like that, you're going to be on the back of the scoreboard.
"It's a good lesson for us and I hope that we won't be happy with it, I certainly am not and the players shouldn't be either."
The Sharks constantly coughed up possession throughout the evening and it wasn't until the final minutes of the match that second-rower Reece Williams troubled the scorers crossing for a consolation try which finally gave Sharks fans something to cheer about.
NEWCASTLE 22 (Brian Carney 2, Matt Gidley, Craig Smith tries; Kurt Gidley 3 goals) d CRONULLA 4 (Reece Williams try).
Injuries: Newcastle - Dan Tolar (Broken nose). Cronulla - nil.
Scrums: Newcastle 14-13.
Penalties: Cronulla 11-9.
Errors: Cronulla 18, Newcastle 13.