THANK goodness that's over.
A season that started in promising fashion for the Newcastle Knights ended with an unwanted share of an embarrassing club record after a 38-16 loss to Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday. It was Newcastle's 10th defeat on home soil this year, matching the 10 beatings they suffered in their own backyard in 2016.
On that occasion, the Knights collected the wooden spoon after posting just one win and a draw from their 24 games.
This year, at least, Newcastle did not run last. After six wins, they finished 14th, a remarkable 16 competition points adrift of the top eight.
But their implosion after opening the season with wins against Sydney Roosters (20-6) and Wests Tigers (26-4) has been little short of inexplicable.
"That 80 minutes probably summed us up," Knights coach Adam O'Brien said afterwards.
"There were parts there that I was standing up in the box, applauding, and everyone in the club could be proud of.
"Then there were moments that you'd love to have again.
"But we will come back bigger and better. We'll work hard over the summer and we'll come back here and we'll be bigger and better for it next year."
Having reached the finals in his first two seasons at the helm, O'Brien said "we're not happy with where we ended up" in 2022, but did not want to offer excuses.
"We have to get better this summer, and that's already started," he said.
"The boys that didn't play today actually ran hills today. So pre-season has started."
O'Brien said "we knew we were going to be up against it", given that 15 members of his NRL squad were unavailable to play the Sharks.
O'Brien felt his troops competed hard against the Sharks, who sealed second spot and home-ground advantage in the play-offs after a dream first season under rookie coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
"They had a red-hot crack ... I can't fault the effort," O'Brien said.
Running into a howling southerly, the Knights twice fought back from deficits to lock scores up at 12-all at half-time.
But just when a last-round boilover appeared on the cards, the game changed when Cronulla regained possession from their kick-off to start the second half. Within a minute, the Sharks had regained the lead after a try by back-rower Briton Nikora.
Seven minutes later, winger Ronaldo Mulitalo scored and the Knights were suddenly 24-12 in arrears and playing catch-up.
The Sharks ended up running in seven tries, which included a hat-trick by Nikora.
English winger Dominic Young scored two tries for the Knights, including a 90-metre intercept, to finish the season with 14, equalling Edrick Lee as Newcastle's leading try merchant.
For Lee, fullback Tex Hoy and bench forward Pasami Saulo, it was their last appearances in the red and blue. Lee has signed for new NRL franchise the Dolphins next year, Hoy is heading to England play in Super League and Saulo is joining Canberra.
Newcastle forward Mat Croker was sin-binned and placed on report for an alleged "hip-drop" tackle on Sharks centre Siosifa Talaki.
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