Dolphins stay unbeaten to set up Broncos blockbuster
The Dolphins have set the scene for a heavyweight first clash with Brisbane after continuing their perfect start to life in the NRL with a 36-20 win over Newcastle.
Wayne Bennett's men made it three-from-three to start their maiden season on Friday evening, in what they conceded was their ugliest win so far.
The Knights were gutsy, despite nine men out and three debutants on the bench at McDonald Jones Stadium, with a Daniel Saifiti shoulder injury set to add to their woes.
Halfback Jackson Hastings ended the game off the field for a concussion check from whiplash - which he passed - after earlier combining nicely with Lachlan Miller and Tyson Gamble.
The Knights twice fought back valiantly, providing the try of the night to go ahead 16-14 early in the second half when Bradman Best and Gamble combined from a 20-metre tap and Miller went 70m to score untouched.
But ultimately their lack of experience showed, as the hosts faded with Hastings off the field after a late hit from Felise Kaufusi and Kalyn Ponga out indefinitely through concussion.
It means next Friday's first clash between the Dolphins and the Broncos will be close to a top-of-the-table battle, with Brisbane also entering this weekend unbeaten.
"It's the easiest game in the world to coach next week," Bennett said.
"These are the hard games (against the Knights). These are the pressure games.
"Everyone is going to want to play in (the Brisbane derby).
"If you're a football player you're going to want to be there, in the best stadium in Australia. I don't think anyone needs to be motivated to be there."
Former Bronco Tesi Niu bagged three tries as the Dolphins troubled the Knights down the left edge while containing the dangerous Dom Young nicely.
Niu's former Brisbane teammate Jamayne Isaako scored the match-sealer, after another ex-Bronco, Brenko Lee, put him into space with the Dolphins down to 12 men after Kaufusi was sin-binned for his late shot.
Tom Gilbert was also impressive, running 153 metres and making 38 tackles as the workhorse of the Dolphins' middle.
The Dolphins dominated the early stages before a lacklustre middle 40, with two of Niu's tries in the first half the result of slick passes from his centre Euan Aitken.
Kodi Nikorima also claimed a four-pointer before the break when he went over from dummy-half.
But the Knights were able to keep the margin to four points through tries to Gamble and Miller.
Both came from nice lead-up work, with Miller's particularly impressive when he laid on a short ball for Lachlan Fitzgibbon and wrapped around the outside in support to score.
Miller's 70-metre burst for his second was equally delightful after the break, but from there it fell apart for the Knights.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow swooped on a loose ball after a Connelly Lemuelu bust, Niu claimed his third on the left wing and Isaako bagged a late double on the right as the Dolphins ran away with the game.
The Knights desperately missed Hastings' direction in the final 10 minutes.
"If you've got them down to 12 you want your halves out there," Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien said.
"But that's not the reason why we didn't get the job done.
"We got our noses out in front and we came up with some uncharacteristic things in defence."