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NRL: Knights’ gutsy finals crusade continues

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The Newcastle Knights’ finals crusade continued in thrilling fashion with a 30-28 triumph at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

In front of 29,548 people, skipper Kalyn Ponga landed the match-winning penalty in the 89th minute after the combatants were locked together at 28-all at full-time.

It was a fixture that had everything but, in the end, the Knights captured their 10th consecutive victory and a date with the Warriors in New Zealand next weekend.

Newcastle Knights centre Bradman Best. Photo: NRL Imagery

With the rousing “Newcastle” chant spurring them on, the Adam O’Brien-coached outfit struck in the fifth minute.

A smart backline movement involving Jackson Hastings, Tyson Gamble, Ponga and Bradman Best resulted in winger Greg Marzhew posting his 21st try of the season. Ponga landed the sideline conversion for a 6-0 lead.

The hosts then repelled Canberra for five consecutive sets, via exceptional defence on their line.

However, a big hit on centre Dane Gagai by Raiders star Jack Wighton jolted the ball loose and, against the run of play, winger James Schiller crossed in the corner. Jamal Fogarty levelled it up at 6-all.

Newcastle failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity in the 29th minute.

After Marzhew intercepted, and put the Knights deep in Canberra territory, Gagai appeared to get the better of his oppositive number but knocked on over the tryline.

That mistake proved extremely costly.

Within minutes, following a short Ponga drop-out, interchange forward Trey Mooney smashed his way through the home side. Although Fogarty missed the shot at goal, the visitors hit the front 10-6.

Worse was to come for the tiring Knights.

Right on the stroke of half-time, Wighton sent Schiller on a clear run to collect his double. Fogarty raised the flags and the Raiders’ advantage to 16-6.

Newcastle then suffered another blow, during the break, when Hastings was ruled out due to an ankle injury.

In the 46th minute, the match turned completely on its head.

Wighton was placed on report after Gamble accused him of biting.

That clicked the Knights into gear.

Almost immediately, Kurt Mann sliced through and found a flying Ponga in support. The latter converted to reduce the margin to 16-12.

Eight minutes later, Ponga injected himself into the play again and Dominic Young touched down for the 24th time in 2023. Ponga added the extras to push Newcastle ahead 18-16.

Within 90 seconds, it became 22-16 when Gamble and Ponga combined to send Young down the sideline. He discovered an unmarked Gagai backing up.

In the 63rd minute, Gamble recovered a ball, just metres from his line, stepped up a defender and sent Young on a 60m run to the tryline. Ponga soon made it 28-16.

Canberra refused to surrender and responded straight away.

On the fifth tackle, five-eighth Matt Frawley opted to go himself and strode over. Fogarty ensured the visitors trailed 28-22.

With two-and-a-half minutes remaining, former Knight Tom Starling scored near the uprights. Fogarty tied it up 28-all to send the showdown into extra-time.

It was left to Ponga to seal the result.

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