Home-grown talents Brayden Musgrove and Brodie Jones enjoyed successful returns to Cessnock, with the Newcastle Knights holding out a spirited Goannas outfit 20-4 at the Cessnock Sports Ground.
Played as the concluding event at the hugely-successful FanFest, the NRL powerhouse showed their class by overpowering the Newcastle Rugby League premiers in an entertaining clash.
Featuring a side stacked full of supremely talented young guns and fringe NRL stars, the Knights stayed in control of the brutal contest from the opening whistle.
New recruit Dominic Young enjoyed a strong first outing in red and blue, playing a key role from the wing and crossing for a try in the 11th minute.
Rookie winger Matt Soper-Lawler also shone, replacing Young at half-time.
Unfortunately, Jack Johns had a vastly different afternoon after being forced off the field in the 15th minute for a HIA.
He didn’t return to the field.
It was a bruising opening 10 minutes, with both sides starting at an intensity not usually seen in a pre-season encounter.
It was the kind of brutality you would expect in a finals game, with the Goannas keen to hold their own in front of a packed local crowd.
However, it was Young who was ultimately the difference in the opening stanza, setting up a cracking try for Jacob Kiraz and scoring the opener himself.
A Scott Haynes’ four-pointer in the shadows of the break kept the Goannas in the game, sending the rowdy Cessnock crowd into raptures.
With many NRL names off the park in the second stanza, Cessnock continued to ask plenty of questions to the more inexperienced Knights squad.
However, the boys in red and blue held firm, with halfback Kobe Davis powering his way over in the 52nd minute to give his side breathing space.
Final quarter tries to Liam Wilkinson and Dylan Lucas sealed an impressive victory, with coach Adam O’Brien sure to be pleased with what he got out of his troops.
Meanwhile, in the day’s earlier games, the Knights SG Ball side ran out 30-24 winners over Penrith in an entertaining fixture.
The Panthers fought back after going into the interval 12 points behind, bridging the gap to just six points inside the final 10 minutes.
Newcastle was forced to defend its line in the final seconds, with the Panthers having a last-minute four-pointer denied by the referee.
The buzzing crowd were eventually in raptures, with the squad holding on for a nail-biting win.
It was a different story for the Harold Matthews outfit, with the team going down 40-6 to Penrith.
- by Zac Nissen