Ponga scores hat-trick in Knights’ spiteful win over Sharks

Kalyn Ponga has scored a hat-trick of tries in Newcastle’s 38-10 win over Cronulla, who had Chad Townsend sent off in what may prove to be a costly defeat.

Three weeks out from the NRL finals, Cronulla’s season is in danger of imploding, with Townsend marched from the field for a horror shot on Ponga in Newcastle.

Townsend launched his shoulder at the Knights fullback, who was taking a tap midway through the second half.

The wild hit sparked a melee and forced the Sharks to play a man down when they were trailing by 18 points at the time..

Adding further insult, Friday night’s loss could also cost the eighth-placed Sharks their captain Wade Graham, Toby Rudolf and Braden Hamlin Uele.

All three were placed on report for two separate lifting tackles.

Graham and Rudolf were lucky to stay on the field when they upended Knights half Mason Lino midway through the first half.

The loss to the sixth-placed Knights was another blight on the Sharks’ record in 2020 as they are yet to beat a current top-eight team.

Increasing the urgency is the fact the Warriors are snapping at their heels just four points adrift with a match in hand, making the Sharks’ spot in the top eight up for grabs with three rounds of the regular season to play.

The Warriors can get within two points of Cronulla if they beat Parramatta on Sunday before they face the Sharks next weekend.

Missing star halfback Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan against the Knights, the Sharks lacked direction but a litany of errors spoiled their chances when they found possession.

Fullback Will Kennedy struggled with three errors for the night, including a knock-on that led to a try for Starford To’a 17 minutes into the contest.

It was the second try of the evening for the 20-year-old winger, while Ponga crossed for two of his three tries during the first half.

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Ponga was electric in attack, slipping through soft defence for his first NRL hat-trick. Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Josh King also scored tries for the Knights.

Save for tries to Ronaldo Mulitalo and Connor Tracey, the Sharks were undisciplined and disorganised.

It was a huge bounce back for the Knights after last week’s 30-point loss to the Warriors and the win all but cements their place in the finals.

AAP/ABC

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