The Knights piled on the points and a lot of pain against a hapless Dragons outfit 42-18 at McDonald Jones Stadium to all but seal hosting rights for a game in week one of the finals.
Although it’s been long enough – seven years – since a Newcastle playoff appearance, it’s been an even longer wait for a home final. The last was in 2006 when Andrew Johns was captain and Michael Hagan was coach.
"It would certainly be great. We love playing here in front of our home, our supporters, our sponsors, our community," coach Adam O'Brien said.
Still there is one week round left where things could go pear-shaped.
The Knights have leapt past the Rabbitohs into sixth position. Newcastle have a short turnaround before facing the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday, while Souths play later that night against the Roosters at ANZ Stadium.
Match: Knights v Dragons
Round 19 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
If the Knights are upset by the Titans – who are gunning for their fifth straight victory – and the Rabbitohs win, South Sydney will reclaim home-ground advantage for their finals clash.
Neither team can catch fifth-placed Canberra, who beat the Warriors on Sunday.
But O'Brien couldn't hide the excitement if a home final became a reality.
"I know capacity may only be at 50% but I've been here when the place was rocking. I know how difficult it is coming up the highway to play here," O'Brien said.
"So it would be huge. It would be great for everyone but we're not there yet."
Scoring 80 points in their past two home games at McDonald Jones Stadium will give O’Brien’s men a certain amount of confidence.
Randall opens the Dragons up and Ponga dives over
Five converted tries in the first half set up Sunday’s win. They ended up with seven for the match, conceding three to the Dragons.
The Newcastle fans could smell a home final in the air from early in the match. Two quick tries within the first seven minutes will do that.
First Kurt Mann’s replacement at hooker, Chris Randall, raced between two markers on the halfway line before passing to Kalyn Ponga to end that attacking movement with points.
Then Gehamat Shibisaki sailed highest of four players to snatch a Mason Lino kick to score.
Lino had taken on the goalkicking duties from Ponga and didn’t miss with his first two conversions. He ended up with a perfect record from seven attempts.
Everything was looking rosy despite the dark clouds above the stadium.
It wasn’t long before it was 24-0 when Ponga drifted across the right side for a short, flat pass to Aidan Guerra to dive over. Then Daniel Saifiti twisted in the tackle from three Dragons players to score near the posts.
While the Knights were racking up points, the Dragons kept adding to their list of errors. Corey Norman and Ben Hunt’s kicks were too long or too wide, while dropped balls from several other players didn’t help the situation.
Hunt was also placed on report for a crusher tackle on Hymel Hunt.
It took 35 minutes but Dragons finally got on the scoreboard through Zac Lomax, who wrestled out of two tackles and then dragged another two defenders over the line.
The Knights went further ahead through centre Enari Tuala for a commanding 30-6 lead at half-time.
Ponga provides Tuala with his second
The Dragons were given a lucky break when a Mitch Barnett try was disallowed through a knock-on early in the second half. But the Red V couldn’t mount any form of pressure in attack or defence.
A runaway Cody Ramsey linked with Norman to finish a 60-metre move after a Jacob Saifiti try, but Tuala crossed for his second and the lead blew out to 30 points once more.
Lomax got his second late in the contest but the damage had been done in the opening 40 minutes.
It was a productive night for Lino with a try assist alongside his seven conversions. He came into the team late after Tex Hoy damaged his hamstring in the last training session of the week.
Ramsey gets into space and turns it inside to Norman
There were fears Mann’s absence through suspension could bring havoc but Randall shone at hooker, while Ponga’s returns after a week’s rest from a head knock against the Sharks yielded two try assists, and two line break assists alongside his 158 metres from 18 runs.
It certainly gave Newcastle's old boys’ weekend attendees plenty to cheer about
One piece of concerning news for the Knights was the leg injury suffered by back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon. Hunt limped off with a thigh strain to add injury to the Dragons' insult.