The return of Kalyn Ponga was not enough to stop a David Fifita-inspired Gold Coast romping to a 42-16 NRL win over a depleted Newcastle at Cbus Super Stadium.
To be fair to Ponga, it is unlikely anyone would have made much of a difference on Saturday against a rampant Titans who ran in eight tries to three including a first career hat-trick for Fifita.
Plenty of eyes may have been on Knights star Ponga in his first game of 2021 after the ex-Queensland fullback was welcomed back from off-season shoulder surgery.
But it was Fifita who stole the show as the Titans claimed their third win in five games to pile on more misery for the injury-hit Knights.
Ponga’s return had been welcome good news for Newcastle, who had lost 10 of their top-29 squad to injury or suspension in the first four rounds.
But there was more pain to come for the visitors, who lost try-scoring lock Chris Randall (shoulder) in the 19th minute.
For the Titans, pivot Ash Taylor (broken hand) returned to combine with No.7 Jamal Fogarty who showed no signs of a corked thigh suffered last round as the hosts ran amok, with Corey Thompson and Patrick Herbert both bagging doubles.
But the hosts did not emerge unscathed, losing winger Phillip Sami (concussion) in a seventh-minute tackle that resulted in Tyson Frizell being placed on report.
Fifita crossed for his first in the 22nd minute when he left Frizell in his wake before skittling more Knights to crash over again in the 32nd and 52nd.
It marked Gold Coast’s sixth straight win over Newcastle, who have not tasted victory on the tourist strip since 2015.
Not much went right for the Knights, with Enari Tuala appearing to cross in the 47th minute after a Ponga bust to potentially cut the deficit to 26-18, only for it to be disallowed when replays showed he had been held up by Brian Kelly.
The signs were ominous from the outset for the visitors, after Ponga started the game by kicking the ball out on the full.
Little else went to plan for Newcastle as Gold Coast made them pay, jumping to a 12-0 lead in the first eight minutes and 26-6 by the 32nd.
Gold Coast flyer Herbert was sin binned shortly before halftime for a professional foul before Newcastle’s Starford Toa crashed over moments later, cutting the deficit at the break to 26-12.
But the Titans piled on another three tries in the second half, including a remarkable length-of-the-field effort scored by Herbert after an AJ Brimson bust off a kick re-start.