NEWCASTLE Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga has inspired a great escape to help down Cronulla 26-22 at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Ponga scored two tries, the second in the 77th minute when the Knights were trailing 22-20 and facing a fourth consecutive defeat.
Newcastle bench forward Brodie Jones was equally influential in the victory, scoring a try and having a hand in two others in the unfamiliar role of stopgap centre.
The win lifted Newcastle from 11th to ninth and gave them a much-needed confidence boost before next week's clash with unbeaten leaders Penrith.
Ponga was the first to score, slicing through Cronulla's defensive line after a short ball from Mitch Barnett.
Barnett and Ponga then reversed roles four minutes later, when the back-rower crashed over to score after an offload from the No.1.
Cronulla responded with a fortuitous try when Ponga, under intense pressure, dropped a Chad Townsend bomb and Jesse Ramien pounced on the ball to race away and score.
Newcastle then broke clear down the right edge, after Jones put Enari Tuala into space. Tuala then centre-kicked and Kurt Mann snatched the ball and planted it down in-goal.
Newcastle suffered another injury blow midway through the first half when winger Hymel Hunt limped off with an ankle injury.
The Sharks burst out of the blocks in the second half, back-rower Briton Nikora reaching out to score after Newcastle conceded a six-again infringement.
Newcastle regained the ascendancy in the 55th minute when Ponga slipped a one-handed pass and Jones raced over to score his first NRL try.
But the Sharks refused to go away and a Connor Tracey try in the corner reduced the deficit to 20-16.
The visitors equalised in the 67th minute when Mawene Hiroti dived over inches from the sideline. Despite a desperate around-the-legs tackle by Knights rookie Brayden Musgrove, the video referee approved the try, over-ruling referee Matt Cecchin's initial no-try decision.
Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend, despite resounding boos from the crowd of 17,039, nailed the conversion from touch to give his team a two-point lead.