Newcastle Knights' star halfback Mitchell Pearce has made a successful comeback from injury, helping his team to a 18-16 win over Parramatta Eels and ending a run of six losses at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The former NSW Origin No.7, who was playing his first game since round seven, finished with a try and an assist – as well as some dangerous kicks, which the Knights have been dearly missing over the last nine rounds.
Desperate to avenge the heavy 30-4 round 13 defeat to the Novocastrians, the Eels made a perfect start racing to 10-0 in 10 minutes.
The opening try Siosaia Vave came in just the third minute after the visitors were gifted great field position on the back of two penalties.
The explosive start from Parramatta continued with Jarryd Hayne masterminding their second try. A scintillating 50 metre run out of dummy half was backed up with a pass to Bevan French, who put a kick infield for Mitchell Moses to extend the lead to 10 points.
Match: Knights v Eels
Round 18 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
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Then, after 14 minutes, the sight Newcastle fans have been waiting nearly three months to see – Pearce engineering the Knights response.
A perfectly weighted grubber kick, that could not be cleaned up by the Eels, eventually lead to a try to Connor Watson.
Both sides created opportunities with the ball throughout the first half, but handling errors let the Eels down - Parramatta's set completion down to just 58 per cent.
It proved costly, as a dropped ball from Peni Terepo gave the Knights an opportunity to attack from inside the 20 metre zone, and an offload from Nick Meaney to Shaun Kenny-Dowall levelled the scores [10-10] just before half time.
In a frantic finish to the opening 40, there was a nervous moment for Newcastle as Bevan French nearly chased down a long range Mitchell Moses kick, coming up centimetres short of grounding the ball cleanly.
In the 80th minute it was French again trying to ground a Corey Norman grubber kick near the corner post.
Pearce appeared to cop a heavy knock while making a tackle early in the second half, but after a few moments with the trainer to catch his breath, he played on unaffected.
The star halfback scored the home side's only try of the second half when he took advantage of a huge midfield gap by running onto a Chris Heighington pass at speed to score under the posts.
But anything Pearce did, Hayne was doing just as well. A zig-zag run down the eastern touchline, put a flying Norman into space. The five-eighth sprinted 55 metres to get the score to 16-16.
In a see-sawing match, a penalty for Nathan Brown stripping the ball, allowed Ken Sio to kick the goal to put the Knights back in front.
Connor Watson threatened to put Newcastle further ahead, when he streaked into open space, only to be chased down by Moses.
Herman Ese'ese let the Eels off the hook a few plays later giving away a penalty for not playing the ball properly. He was facing the Andrew Johns grandstand on the eastern side.
Sione Mata'utia missed the final nine minutes of the game, after he was forced off with a HIA when he copped a knock to the head from Moses.
News & Notes:Corey Norman played his 100th game for Parramatta (that's on top of the 63 he enjoyed with the Broncos)... Cameron King had his right knee strapped twice during the second half but remained on the field... the Knights have won 10 of their last 12 games against the Eels.