Cronulla have been under enormous external pressure as the central point of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's investigation into alleged doping at the club in 2011.
Newcastle opened the scoring with Dane Gagai, and extended through a penalty goal, before a controversial double to Sharks centre Jonathan Wright levelled the scores.
The Knights fumed in particular over Wright's second, which went to the video referee and was awarded despite inconclusive replays.
Furious Knights captain Kurt Gidley challenged referee Gavin Badger over the decision, saying replays had clearly shown Wade Graham knocked the ball on before Wright pounced.
"Look how powerful it hit his hand," Gidley fumed.
But Badger was unmoved, saying nothing could be done unless there was concrete vision to overturn it.
"(The video referee) couldn't conclusively tell who touched the ball" Badger told Gidley.
The Sharks started the stronger after the break, crossing through Beau Ryan before Carney showed his class again with a try to push them in front.
But that was cancelled by Tyrone Roberts who scored just 10 minutes from fulltime.
Cronulla's Luke Lewis, who at one point appeared to have suffered a neck injury, came up with crucial plays in the dying seconds of regulation as Gidley and Carney traded missed field goal attempts in the final 10 minutes.
Newcastle five-eighth Jarrod Mullen also finished the match on the sideline with a knee complaint.
Laurie Daley's NSW Origin plans were thrown into disarray on Sunday, with captain Paul Gallen suffering a knee injury in Cronulla's dramatic NRL golden point victory over Newcastle.
The Sharks won the first golden point contest of the season 21-20 after a Jeff Robson field goal in the 85th minute.
It was Robson's first attempt, after NSW hopeful Todd Carney had already had five waved away, and the Knights had three of their own sent wide.
But the major talking point was Gallen's injury which has his State of Origin campaign in doubt.
Gallen twisted awkwardly under a tackle from Newcastle forwards Chris Houston and Willie Mason less than two minutes into the game, hurting the same knee that troubled him last year.
He ran back into the defensive line and attempted to play on, but succumbed less than a minute later.
Gallen finished the match with his leg in a brace and a scowl on his face.
Early reports suggest the 31-year-old has suffered a possible grade two medial ligament tear - which could sideline him from anywhere between two and six weeks.
The worst case scenario would be a nightmare for Daley, with Origin exactly one month away.
Gallen's injury soured a wonderful victory for the desperate Sharks, who snapped a four-game losing streak.