Newcastle have surged into the top four after surviving a late South Sydney fightback to claim a 20-18 win on Saturday night at Bankwest Stadium.
Prodigious fullback Kalyn Ponga and rookie sensation Bradman Best starred for the Knights, who did just enough to hang on after out-playing the Rabbitohs for most of the game.
Ponga answered his critics with an assertive 80-minute display and showed why he’s such a feared triple threat with his passing, kicking and running game, despite an off night in the goal-kicking department (2/5).
Rising star Best showed maturity beyond his 18 years, featuring prominently in attack and defence, as the Knights patiently built a 20-point lead with 25 minutes remaining.
The Rabbitohs set up a thrilling finish with three converted tries in eight minutes but couldn’t conjure a match-winner in the final frantic minutes.
The Knights’ win was their sixth of the season and catapulted them ahead of the Roosters and Raiders into fourth spot, while Souths slipped to 5-5 and are in danger of falling out of the top eight.
Both teams fired shots in the first 10 minutes, but the Knights looked more likely and ultimately opened their account first when Best set up winger Enari Tuala for a try in the corner. Ponga converted from the sideline for a 6-0 lead.
Newcastle were in again four minutes later, as Mitchell Pearce put it on a plate for Kurt Mann to score. Ponga hooked the conversion and it stayed 10-0.
Ponga showed his class when he broke free to score a solo try in the 28th minute, though he squandered a chance to extend the margin when he missed his second conversion attempt of the night.
Ponga placed a well-weighted kick behind the defensive line for Best to score the first try of the second half. He missed the conversion attempt but made amends with a 53rd-minute penalty goal to give the visitors added breathing space at 20-0.
Souths finally broke their duck when big prop Mark Nicholls barged over close to the posts with 15 minutes remaining. The comeback was well and truly on when Damien Cook scored the Bunnies’ second try three minutes later, with Adam Reynolds converting both to make it 20-12.
Cook scored his second in the 73rd minute but the Knights held on.