Livewire Sharks utility Ben Barba has inspired a three-try comeback in the Sharks 30-28 victory over the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Named on the bench, Barba entered proceedings in the 49th minute and instantly motivated the Sharks, where they scored three tries in the space of six minutes.
Cronulla twice came back from 10 points down to condemn the Knights to their fourth-straight loss and their ninth in 10 games.
With the Knights up 16-12 at half-time, the Newcastle outfit extended their lead with a candidate for try of the year in the 45th minute through Carlos Tuimavave.
It came from fullback Jake Mamo who, after moments earlier kicked the ball what looked to be too long, selflessly threw himself over the dead ball line to tap the ball back into the in-goal for five-eighth Tuimavave to pounce on and score.
Not to be outdone, back-rower Luke Lewis helped the Sharks bounce back in beautiful fashion when he scored in the 51st minute. After making a break down the wing on the same play, Lewis was able to pass to his teammates, which included a long-winding run from Barba, before he ran to the other side of the field in support to score.
Barba then turned the game on its head when he scored in the 54th minute thanks to some handy lead up work from halfback Jeff Robson to help push the Sharks ahead by two.
Four minutes later, and in good territory, Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird kicked ahead for himself to score his second of the afternoon and push Cronulla's lead to eight – adding further pain to the Knights. Kade Snowden forced his way over with two minutes left on the clock but it wasn't enough to deny the Sharks.
The Knights were left to lament their earlier leads especially after scoring two penalty goals, from the boot of Kurt Gidley, in the first eight minutes to post an early 4-0 lead.
The Sharks crossed for the first try of the match in the 16th minute when they caught the Knights short out wide through Valentine Holmes to equal the ledger at four apiece.
The Knights hit back in the 28th minute when a backline shift in their own half paid dividends when centre Dane Gagai glided through the Sharks defence. With Gordon zoning in on the breakaway Knight, Gagai kicked the ball back in-field for fullback Jake Mamo to score in his first NRL game of the season.
With six minutes remaining in the half, a slick ball from Gidley saw the returning Robbie Rochow run ahead. With Gordon again applying pressure out the back, Rochow was able to pass on to a supporting Beau Scott. The New South Wales back-rower's try helped extend the Knights' lead to 10.
Poor discipline from Newcastle – when Gidley put his foot on the sideline at dummy-half – contributed to the Sharks victory, through Bird scoring with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. What was looking likely to be a backline shift, Lewis instead threw it back inside for Bird to close the gap to four at half-time.
"We knew we were going to come here to a side that was desperate," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
"At home, Newcastle they're always a tough team so we knew it was going to be one of those games. We were obviously a bit disappointed when we did get behind twice by 10 points but we were pretty confident at half-time that if we get some blocks of possession that we could get some points.
"We got that block in the middle of the second half there and scored I think three tries in six minutes. It was really important to do that, but they came ready to play in the first. They had good line speed and they had a bit to play for and to their credit our boys needed to hang in with them."
Cronulla Sharks 30 (Jack Bird 2, Valentine Holmes, Luke Lewis, Ben Barba Tries; Michael Gordon 5 Goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 28 (Jake Mamo, Beau Scott, Carlos Tuimavave, Kade Snowden Tries; Kurt Gidley 6 Goals) at Hunter Stadium. Half-time: Knights 16-12. Crowd: 14,081. On Report: Kade Snowden (Knights), Tariq Sims (Knights)