The Newcastle Knights have produced one of the defensive performances of the season, holding on to defeat Manly 14-12 in a controversial finish on Sunday afternoon.
Both sides were out to make amends for extremely poor and uncharacteristic performances in Round 7, with Manly and Newcastle leaking 40 and 32 points respectively, and they more than redeemed themselves with only 4 tries being scored by both teams combined.
The scoring got underway in the 8th minute courtesy of a penalty goal awarded after Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans was sin binned for a professional foul. The Sea Eagles were probably luck to get away with only two points against them as Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce piled on the repeat sets.
The pressure finally got to Manly after 15 minutes and they were made to pay for countless errors as veteran hooker Andrew McCullough burrowed his way over from dummy half after selling the defensive line a huge dummy. The 8 points was all they were able to pile on during the sin bin period.
After coming back onto the field it didn't take Cherry-Evans long to make his mark on the contest. Manly were attacking the try line and the skipper was able to take advantage of some poor Knights defence, running late in the tackle count off his left foot and getting over for his first try of 2020.
It seemed Manly had all the momentum for the rest of the half however errors close to the line cost them, particularly when Cade Cust threw a cutout ball that sailed over the sideline immediately after being gifted a set restart.
The Knights landed a dagger to the hearts of the Manly faithful right on half time, with the halves Mitchell Pearce and Kurt Mann combining beautifully to extend the lead to 8. Pearce put in a trademark cross-field kick that was juggled and then grounded by Mann, a play that took the wind out of Manly's sails at the break.
The Newcastle Knights defended better than perhaps any other NRL team has this year for the bulk of the second half, repelling countless Manly attacking raids on numerous occasions, however the Sea Eagles finally broke through in the 67th minute when Cade Cust crashed over, setting up a grandstand finish. Daly Cherry-Evans probed across field and saw a hard running Cust come his way, and with 12 to go the deficit was down to 2.
Newcastle looked long odds to hold on, with Manly seemingly having wrestled back momentum and their star fullback Kalyn Ponga being forced off with an HIA. Regardless, they held on and left Manly with the tough ask of going 90 metres in the final minute.
Rookie winger Tevita Funa tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat after getting into open space and putting in a kick, however Andrew McCullough was there to ground the ball. The drama didn't stop when the siren sounded though, with the contest being sent up for a possible penalty try. The findings came back inconclusive and the Knights held on to win 14-12, much to the dismay of Manly fans and players alike, particularly Addin Fonua-Blake who was sent off for dissent.
The Knights have another big test next week when they host Parramatta at home on Sunday afternoon, while Manly will look to end a two match losing streak against the Dragons.