THE Newcastle Knights provided coach Wayne Bennett with a farewell worth celebrating with a season-ending 40-10 win against St George Illawarra at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
The battle between two also-rans out of finals contention was Bennett's last before he returns to Brisbane to re-join the Broncos, with whom he won six premierships between 1988 and 2008.
The margin of victory equalled Newcastle's biggest win of the season. It was also Bennett's first success for the Knights against the Dragons after four consecutive defeats at the hands of his other former club.
On a nostalgic day for Knights fans, departing veterans Willie Mason and Timana Tahu both played starring roles and advertised their services to rival clubs.
Mason produced a series of charging runs, regularly bringing a roar of approval from 20,424 spectactors, while Tahu scored his 92nd and 93rd tries for Newcastle, the first of which he capped with a trademark slam-dunk over the cross-bar.
The Bennett era, a period of regular turmoil under former owner Nathan Tinkler, did not produce the premiership many envisaged when Newcastle signed the veteran tactician midway through 2011.
The Knights made the play-offs in only one of their three campaigns under the veteran strategist, when they qualified seventh last season and advanced to within a game of the grand final.
Hopes that they would build on that this season disintegrated after a string of unprecedented setbacks, most notably the shattering neck injury that ended the career of Alex McKinnon.
In contention for the wooden spoon for most of the year, Newcastle at least rallied to win seven of their last nine games.
They were unbeaten in their final five games at home, which included wins against top-eight contenders the Roosters, Melbourne, the Warriors and Parramatta.
Sunday's result did not affect the position of either team.
The Dragons finished 11th, with 11 wins from 24 games, and the Knights ran 12th, with 10 wins.
Running with the wind, the Knights led 24-4 after a first half that featured a rare punch-up.
Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts and Dragons centre Josh Dugan were both sin-binned for exchanging blows in the 26th minute.
Newcastle's opening try was scored by centre Joey Leilua, who was terrorising the Dragons until he was knocked silly in the 18th minute and taken from the field with concussion.
Further tries by Jarrod Mullen, Tahu and rookie Sione Mata'utia gave the Knights a commanding lead at the break.
Tahu and Dane Gagai scored early in the second half to put the result beyond doubt, then 18-year-old Mata'utia crossed for his seventh try in seven games of his debut NRL season.