IT was payback time for the Newcastle Knights as they opened their 2019 campaign with a gutsy 14-8 triumph against long-time bogey side Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Cronulla had beaten the Knights in their previous eight NRL games, plus the recent trial match at Maitland, a dominant streak dating back to 2015. In addition, Sharks skipper Paul Gallen has shown little public respect for Newcastle, declaring in late 2017 when the Knights signed Mitchell Pearce that they were "two or three years away from being a consistent top eight side" and that he could not imagine them winning a premiership "for a long, long time."
Given that Gallen will retire at the end of the season, his 28th clash with Newcastle was also his last, unless the two teams renew acquaintances in the finals.
Knights coach Nathan Brown was hopeful his team's deserved victory might prompt the 37-year-old warhorse to reassess his opinion.
"Gal made some comments and he was probably saying what a number of other good, hardened forwards probably thought of us, but probably aren't that inclined to speak out publicly about what they think," Brown said.
"Gal's not frightened to say what he thinks, but I'd be more interested to see what he thinks of us now ... it would be interesting to see if he thinks we're an improved footy side."
Newcastle's new-look team, featuring off-season recruits David Klemmer, Tim Glasby, Jesse Ramien, Hymel Hunt, James Gavet, Kurt Mann and Edrick Lee, stood up to Cronulla's feared forwards and beat them at their own game, much to the delight of the 21,813-strong crowd.
Lee, playing against his former club, sealed the victory with a sensational intercept try in the 75th minute. Glasby scored Newcastle's opening try and Klemmer, the incumbent Test prop, was an irresitible force carting the ball into the ruck.
Newcastle laid the foundations for victory with a committed defensive effort in the first half, heading to the sheds at nil-all, despite running into a stiff southerly.
The only negative for the home team was a knee injury that forced Daniel Saifiti out of the game early in the second half.
The next challenge for Brown's troops is to back up against Penrith at home next Saturday.