Shaun Kenny-Dowall went from villain to hero as the Newcastle Knights pulled off a stunning 22-20 victory over the Wests Tigers at Scully Park in Tamworth on Saturday night.
But the win could come at the cost of star halfback Mitchell Pearce, who suffered a pectoral injury late in the contest that could see him sidelined for months.
In front of a packed crowd of 10,082, the Knights led 10-0 at half-time but the Tigers took just three minutes to hit the lead in the second half on the back of controversy.
Newcastle were ruled to have not taken the ball in-goal through Kenny-Dowall immediately after the break but replays suggested the former Roosters winger was entitled to a 20-metre restart.
The controversial call sparked the Tigers, who exploded with three tries in eight minutes to jump out to an 18-10 lead.
But Newcastle wouldn't be denied, with Kenny-Dowall having the last say by climbing above Malakai Watene-Zelezniak in the 78th minute off a Jamie Buhrer cross-kick to steal the win.
The visitors came through in the crunch time without Pearce, who left the field with five minutes remaining.
Earlier, country music the town is famous for was playing nearby as Tamworth put on a stunning day, while fans who lived in viewing range were up on rooftops to catch the action.
The Tigers' strong defensive efforts that formed the backbone of their five wins were on display early, with Josh Aloiai saving a try when he held up Mitch Barnett over the line in a strong one-on-one tackle.
Kalyn Ponga hit the uprights to miss an early shot at penalty goal - he would have a rough night at the office with a 1/5 success rate - but soon put the Knights on the board when he sent Ken Sio over for first points of the night with a pinpoint pass out wide.
Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle left the field for a head injury assessment in the first half. Benji Marshall was next to undergo a concussion test after coming off second best in a tackle on Jacob Saifiti.
The pair returned in the second half, but not before the Knights extended the lead to 10-0 while both were off the field.
Pearce scored the second try, weaving past Sauaso Sue and Matt Eisenhuth to score his first four-pointer in Knights colours and extend the lead, until it began to unravel in a 10-minute try blitz straight after the half-time interval.
Luke Brooks popped a short ball for Michael Chee Kam to break the line and weave past Ponga to score, before a Benji Marshall spiral kick sent Kenny-Dowall into no-man's land. The veteran winger spilled the ball into the hands of Kevin Naiqama who strolled over the line in his 100th NRL game.
Match: Wests Tigers v Knights
Round 7 -
Venue: Scully Park
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
The lead swelled to eight when Marshall sighted Ponga out of position minutes later, chipping the ball over the defensive line for Corey Thompson to grab the joint venture's third try.
Newcastle looked for some spark to stop the rot, with Luke Yates nailing Elijah Taylor with a brutal body shot that forced a dazed Taylor from the field.
The Knights responded minutes later with Lachlan Fitzgibbon spiralling a 20-metre pass for Sio to grab a double.
A penalty goal stretched the Tigers' lead out to a converted try, but the Knights had all the momentum late in the piece and went in again through Sio - earning him his first career hat-trick.
Ponga missed the all-important conversion out wide to level the game but Buhrer and Kenny-Dowall came through under pressure to seal Newcastle's fourth win from seven matches.