Kalyn Ponga has put aside the disappointment of being overlooked for the State of Origin opener by leading the Newcastle Knights to their fifth win of the season.
Returning to fullback for the first time in 2023, the Newcastle co-captain was at his attacking best as the Knights overcame a halftime deficit to defeat the Manly Sea Eagles 28-18 in front of 20,661 supporters at home.
Coming into the match as rare favourites in Daniel Saifiti's 150th game for the club, the Knights were dealt a rude shock with Josh Schuster intercepting a pass from Ponga before linking with Reuben Garrick (13th minute) to open the scorning.
The Sea Eagles added a penalty goal minutes later after the Knights failed to send a line drop put the required ten metres, while the visitors continued to grow in confidence by repelling their more fancied opponents with Bradman Best held up over the line and Lachlan Fitzgibbon denied for a double movement midway through the half.
The Knights opened their account with Greg Marzhew (30th minute) slamming the ball down following a left-side shift, while a break from Tyson Gamble off the kick-off allowed Best (33rd minute) to turn an 8-0 deficit into a 10-8 lead in a matter of minutes.
A fortuitous try to Lachlan Croker (37th minute), standing in as captain for the first time, saw the Sea Eagles take a four-point lead to the change of ends.
Returning from the sheds determined to attack with the football, Ponga displayed dazzling footwork before delivering a pass to send Marzhew (49th minute) over for his second.
Hitting the front after Marzhew (52nd minute) finished off a length of the field set from the kick-off to collect his first career hat-trick, the Knights were left to rue a missed opportunity after Best was held up over the line.
The Sea Eagles halted the momentum with Jason Saab (61st minute) latching onto a pass from Jackson Hastings, however the joy was short lived after Tolutau Koula was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Ponga.
Wasting little time to capitalise on their one-man advantage, Phoenix Crossland (66th minute) was on the spot to collect his third try of the season after the bunker ruled the Manly defence stripped the ball from Jack Hetherington over the line.
The Knights secured the result with star winger Dominic Young (75th minute) delivering on his reputation with a scintillating 90-metre solo effort to confirm the 28-18 victory.
Next week, both teams will have their second bye of the season.