Coach John Morris has defended Cronulla’s culture saying the club does not have a doping problem despite rising star Bronson Xerri testing positive to a banned substance.
Edrick Lee went from hero to zero to hero in a matter of minutes to spark Newcastle to a controversy-filled 14-8 NRL Round 1 win over Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Playing in his first game for the Knights after moving across from the Sharks in the off-season, the winger figured in almost all of his side’s key moments as Nathan Brown’s men began their new era with a hard-fought win on Friday.
It took 69 minutes for the game to come to life when Tim Glasby surged through a gaping hole off a Mitchell Pearce short-ball to break the deadlock and give the home side an 8-2 advantage.
But just when the 21,813-strong crowd thought their side had the game in the bag, Sharks winger Sione Katoa was sensationally awarded a penalty try after Lee was ruled to have taken him out.
Josh Dugan grounded the ball off a Shaun Johnson grubber but couldn’t ground it cleanly.
The bunker then ruled that Katoa, who was ahead of Dugan in the chase, would have got to the ball if it weren’t for Lee’s interference to lock the scores up with eight minutes remaining.
But Lee turned the game on its head once again three minutes later when he latched on to a Chad Townsend long pass and ran 85 metres to ice the match with a brilliant intercept try.
Lee was immense all game, pulling off three try-saving tackles in the first-half to help deliver a victory which will give the Knights hope of returning to the top eight after five years in the wilderness and three wooden spoons in that period.
All of the Knights’ news faces stood out with David Klemmer running for 186m from 20 carries and making 25 tackles in a game-changing performance.
But Kalyn Ponga had a mediocre night in his first performance in the No.6 jumper, often looking devoid of ideas and taking several poor kicking options.
After the scores were tied 2-2 early in the second-half, the Sharks were ill-disciplined in what was new coach John Morris’ first game in charge.
Their five errors in the second 40 were telling in the wash up after they threw away several opportunities.
Meanwhile, Knights prop Daniel Saifiti was taken for scans after suffering a suspected MCL injury.