Wests Tigers have been handsomely beaten by the Newcastle Knights on Saturday night, with star fullback Kalyn Ponga turning in a dominant performance to give his side a 44-4 win.
On a night when Wests Tigers were celebrating two 250-game milestones in Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall, it was the home side who proved the spoiler with a rampant opening 25 minutes paving the way for a comfortable victory.
Ponga was the chief architect for Coach Adam O'Brien — scoring two tries and having a hand in two others — as the Knights ran out 40-point winners.
The loss leaves Wests Tigers now two wins outside the top eight — with next Sunday's clash against the Bulldogs essential for any finals hopes.
A clever play around the ruck saw Ponga stroll through for the first points of the game after just nine minutes in a play that would set up the mood for the first half for Wests Tigers. Four errors inside their own half and several set restarts gifted the Knights all the running and they would continue to make the most of that.
Mitch Barnett's sharp hands on a deflected kick saw Hymel Hunt double the lead after 13 minutes before new recruit Blake Green combined with Ponga to send young Starford Toa out wide for his first try of the season.
Luciano Leilua toes it through to score
With nothing seemingly going their way, Wests Tigers would bounce back with a fortuitous try to Luciano Leilua as Marshall's ricocheted kick was soccered through by the Samoan international for a much-needed four-pointer.
Moses Mbye was unable to convert, leaving the visitors with a tricky proposition — which was made worse right on the stroke of half-time as Daniel Saifiti touched down next to the posts despite a serious hint of a double movement.
Saifiti's try would make it a 24-4 lead for the Knights — who deserved their advantage off the back of their ascendency — before fellow big man Herman Ese'ese also got in in the scoring with a damaging run to extend the hosts' lead.
Off the back of another linebreak through the middle, Ponga would grab his second try to extend the margin to 30 points before clever hands on the right edge would put Gehamat Shibasaki over with 20 minutes still remaining in the contest.
Debutant AJ Kepaoa would continue to try hard in the backfield with over 150 metres on the ground in his maiden performance, but would unfortunately cough up the ball under a high kick from Green to give Phoenix Crossland his first NRL try and the Knights a 44-4 lead that would be preserved to the end.
Newcastle Knights 44 (Ponga 2, Hunt, To'a, Saifiti, Ese'ese, Shibasaki, Crossland tries; Ponga 5/8 goals) def. Wests Tigers 4 (L.Leilua tries; Mbye 0/1 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium
Match: Knights v Wests Tigers
Round 13 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle