REIGNING premiers Cronulla ended any slim hopes of Newcastle avoiding the wooden spoon with a 26-18 last-round victory at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
The Knights headed into the final round needing upset wins by themselves and the Warriors against Wests Tigers to climb out of the competition cellar.
Instead they will finish last for the third successive year, although at least they ended the season with a respectable effort, fighting back from an 18-0 deficit to make their Sharks earn their two points.
Cronulla looked set to chalk up a cricket score after early tries by Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey, all converted by James Maloney.
But two tries in six minutes by back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon reduced the deficit to 18-12 at the half-time interval.
Fitzgibbon finished the year with six tries – the most scored by any Newcastle forward in a season since Danny Buderus (10) in 2003.
But his eye-catching performance was interrupted in the 44th minute when he was replaced after suffering what appeared to be a fractured finger.
Seconds later, the Sharks won a penalty and Maloney kicked a goal for an eight-point buffer.
A runaway try to Cronulla debutant Jesse Ramien, after a Paul Gallen offload, re-established the visitors’ stranglehold.
But Newcastle refused to surrender and a Danny Levi try from dummy-half, converted by Trent Hodkinson, gave them a glimmer of hope.
They appeared set to take the game down to the wire, only for the video referee to rule centre Peter Mata’utia did not ground the ball correctly in the 79th minute as he forced it one-handed over Cronulla’s line.