The win saw the Knights leapfrog the Sharks and Raiders to take sole possession of fifth on the competition ladder with just one week remaining in the regular season and secure what will be their first finals outing in the Hunter since 2006.
The Sharks host the Raiders next Sunday afternoon with the winner likely earning the right to a home qualifying final and the loser’s finals path to be at the whim of several other results from across the weekend.
Despite being without star seven Nicho Hynes due to a quad complaint, the Sharks got off to a strong start denying what appeared to be an early Dom Young try before responding with a Connor Tracey four-pointer in the right corner off a fifth-tackle sweep.
The hosts came up with an answer through skipper Kalyn Ponga who dashed through a retreating Sharks defensive line off a left-edge shift to dive over.
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A Briton Nikora break put the Sharks on the front foot soon after and the robust edge forward looked to have crossed the following play off a Moylan short ball only for video officials to rule that he had failed to ground it.
Young again found some space down the right edge just shy of the break only for some desperate Sharks cover to bundle him into touch.
The scoreline was 6-6 heading into the break despite the hosts having enjoyed the better of the field position.
The second half did not get off to an ideal start for Cronulla with a near 60-metre Ponga kick return sparking an attacking raid that was finished off by Bradman Best who burst through a hole off a shrewd piece of Adam Clune ball-playing down the left edge to earn Newcastle their first lead of the encounter.
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Young got onto the scoreboard just shy off the hour-mark off a looping Tyson Gamble pass for his 21st try of the season, tying Timana Tahu and Akuila Uate’s club record.
Best grabbed his second minutes later off a Ponga face ball with the star fullback laid out by a legal Jesse Ramien hit in the lead-up sparking a melee.
The point-scoring continued for the hosts with Greg Marzhew storming back against the grain off a fifth-tackle Clune unders ball to shove away from multiple defenders and slam the ball down.
Ponga left the field following the try with concerns over an AC joint injury in his shoulder stemming from the Ramien hit.
Jacob Saifiti was denied a late try before the point-scoring continued with Dylan Lucas pulling off a superb individual effort from 30 metres out for his first try in the NRL.
Ponga was everywhere for Newcastle scoring a try, assisting on another, and running for 198 metres with eight tackle breaks whilst Dane Gagai assisted on a pair of line breaks and ran for a game-high 221 metres with 13 tackle breaks.
For Cronulla, Tracey scored a try and ran for 190 metres with four tackle breaks whilst Cameron McInnes ran for 103 metres and made 60 tackles.
The Sharks’ attention turns to the Raiders next week who make the trip to the Shire for a Sunday afternoon showdown with key finals implications on the line.
Both sides will be watching the Rabbitohs-Roosters Friday night clash and the Panthers-Cowboys Saturday evening clash closely with both results to have a crucial impact on the finals race.
Should the Knights take care of the 16th-place Dragons on Saturday night at Kogarah, the victor in Sunday’s clash between the Sharks and Raiders will secure sixth and a home qualifying final.
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