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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Edrick Lee was the unlikely hero as the Knights held off Cronulla 14-8 in a thrilling finish at McDonald Jones Stadium in front of over 21,000 fans.
While Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce were the names on everyone's lips heading into Saturday night's clash, it was Lee who proved the game winner, standing up in both attack and defence.
The 26-year old steamed onto a long ball from Chad Townsend to run away and score the match-winning try. But it was his defence in the first half, which forced four errors from Josh Dugan, which was the most pleasing aspect of his performance.
Although the ending certainly didn't disappoint, the first forty minutes weren't as enthralling with neither side troubling the scoreboard.
While no points were scored, the first forty minutes weren't by any means monotonous. Rather, viewers were treated to a defensive spectacle as both sides scrambled early to shield their line.
Newcastle had several close calls, the first coming in the 9th minute when Cronulla debutant Briton Nikora halted a storming Lachlan Fitzgibbon from scoring what looked to be a certain try close to the line.
Eight minutes later they appeared to have gone over again only for replays to reveal Shaun Kenny-Dowall had fumbled a Mitchell Pearce bomb on the way to the ground.
Lee was also guilty of the fumbles when he failed to take a looping pass from Pearce with the line open. To be fair to him though, the ball was at his feet but another chance went begging nonetheless.
The missed opportunities continued in the 28th minute as Daniel Saifiti surged towards the line but Andrew Fifita, who had provided plenty of strong carries up front, forced his hand under the ball to deny the Newcastle prop.
The Sharks looked most dangerous when Shaun Johnson was given space to roam and most times it eventuated in a spread to their right edge. But Lee constantly menaced former teammate Dugan, with a 58% completion rate plaguing Cronulla's chances in the first forty.
John Morris' men appeared to have finally got a right-edge raid right when Dugan crossed over in the 42nd minute. Johnson took the line on the last and found Dugan in space who kicked ahead for Sione Katoa. The winger then tapped the ball ahead and linked with Dugan back on the inside but the Bunker would rule that Katoa intentionally knocked it forward.
Instead, the first points of the game would come courtesy of a Cronulla penalty goal. But an error off the kick-off and later penalty would see Newcastle square things up once more, with scores locked at 2-all.
Both sides threatened before the Knights finally broke through in the 69th minute after Mitchell Pearce put Tim Glasby over off a lovely short ball.
A controversial finish ensued moments later when Katoa was awarded a penalty try after the Bunker ruled, as the leading runner, he would have scored if not for interference from Lee.
But, thankfully for the NRL, it wouldn't matter in the end as the Lee intercept sealed a tense win for Newcastle.
The Knights are back home again next week with another test against Penrith while Cronulla will look to bounce back against the Titans.
Newcastle Knights 14 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 8
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Halftime Score: Newcastle Knights 0 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 0
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - David Klemmer
2 points - Edrick Lee
1 points - Briton Nikora
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (14)
Tries: Tim Glasby, Edrick Lee
Conversions: Kalyn Ponga (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Kalyn Ponga (1/1)
CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (8)
Tries: Sione Katoa
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (1/1)
Penalty Goals: Shaun Johnson (1/1)