THE Knights have been guilty of some slow starts this season, but they set a new benchmark in missing the jump against Manly at Brookvale Oval yesterday.
The defending premiers scored seven spectacular first-half tries to lead 38-4 at the break, then battled through a second-half injury crisis to beat the Knights 42-20.
It was Manly’s fourth straight victory, and 11th from 13 games against the Knights at their Brookvale fortress, as the Sea Eagles (plus 76) joined South Sydney on 34 competition points to be fourth – one for-and-against differential point behind the third-placed Rabbitohs (plus 77).
From the moment Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts kicked off out on the full, anything that could go wrong did go wrong for Newcastle in the first half.
Timana Tahu spilled a bomb and Kevin Naiqama stepped on Newcastle’s dead-ball line to concede line drop-outs that resulted in Manly tries, Darius Boyd was denied a try when he was penalised for a double movement, and Zeb Taia had another disallowed because his feet were on Manly’s dead-ball line as he grounded a loose ball kicked through by Dane Gagai.
Manly had no such problems, shredding Newcastle’s defence up the middle and on the edges.
Brett Stewart and back-rower Tony Williams scored two tries each, and Jamie Lyon, Glenn Stewart and Kieran Foran also touched down as the Sea Eagles killed off Newcastle’s realistic finals hopes before the half-time siren had sounded.
The Knights did not begin their first attacking set until eight minutes and 20 seconds into the game, and even that did not go the distance because Tahu’s sloppy play-the-ball handed possession back to the Sea Eagles before the end of the set.
‘‘That probably topped them all off,’’ Bennett said of Newcastle’s insipid first-half performance.
‘‘Today was just multiple mistakes, wasn’t it. That was self-inflicted. It wasn’t anything to do with anything other than what we weren’t doing. Kicking out on the full, giving away penalties, getting caught in goal, giving up tries, losing the ball over the try line ...’’
Even when the Sea Eagles were reduced to no reserves in the second half, having lost Matt Ballin (calf), Jason King (shoulder), David Williams (leg) and Jamie Buhrer (concussion) to injury, and the Knights scored three tries in 12 minutes to pull within 38-20 with 17 minutes to go, Bennett never thought they could win.
He was just pleased they had not been blown away by a cricket score and undone the good work of the past two months.
‘‘No, I didn’t think we were ever a chance,’’ he said. ‘‘They needed a bit of help [at half-time but] they didn’t need a coach losing the plot.
‘‘I didn’t want them to lose everything here today. It could have been 70 points there at one stage.’’
Second-rower Chris Houston said the Knights tried desperately to stop Manly’s momentum in the first half but could not establish a foothold.
‘‘They were controlling the ball well, they’re a quality side, and they were executing that pretty well,’’ Houston said.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey said the injury toll of the second half took the shine off the spectacular first-half performance, in which the Sea Eagles were unstoppable.
‘‘It was a bit like the old days – once you come off, you’re off – and we ran out of troops there, so I was very proud,’’ Toovey said.
‘‘Probably the last 30 minutes there, we played with no reserves, so it was difficult and a lot of players had to play out of their positions, which makes it hard for them, but they showed a lot of character and we got there.
‘‘I thought our first half was excellent, when we had our full complement on board.’’
Tony Williams was reported in the 65th minute for tripping, then Boyd and Knights forwards Houston and Kade Snowden were reported two minutes later for a lifting tackle on Foran, who had retrieved Daly Cherry-Evans’s short line drop-out and run it 50 metres.
● Manly ended Newcastle’s faint NYC finals hopes with a 30-18 victory in the curtain-raiser, but the Knights remained on track to make the NSW Cup finals with a 78-14 victory over Western Suburbs Magpies at Townson Oval yesterday.