Newcastle put a week of soul-searching and scrutiny behind them to shock Parramatta 28-14 at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, breathing life back into their season.
Ending a five-game losing streak, which had fuelled speculation about the future of coach Nathan Brown, the Knights never trailed in registering just their second win of the year to climb to 11th.
It was a remarkable form reversal from both teams.
Newcastle had been embarrassed 38-14 by an injury-ravaged Titans on the Gold Coast seven days earlier, and the Eels thumped Wests Tigers on opening day at Bankwest Stadium on Easter Monday.
Criticised for starting slowly in their previous two losses to Gold Coast and Manly, the Knights burst out of the blocks against a Parramatta side that looked a shadow of the team that blew Wests Tigers away six days earlier.
Match: Knights v Eels
Round 7 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Halfback Mitchell Pearce and hooker Danny Levi had attracted criticism for their performances in the past five weeks but were among Newcastle’s best against the Eels.
Pearce scored a try and set up another with a grubber kick for Lachlan Fitzgibbon, and Levi looked sharp out of dummy-half and threw the last pass for tries to Kalyn Ponga and James Gavet.
Newcastle produced their best half of the season, running in three tries in 19 minutes, to lead 20-8 at half-time.
Levi made a bust of dummy-half in the eighth minute to send Ponga away on a 60-metre sprint to score under the posts for an 8-0 lead.
Fitzgibbon squeezed in between Parramatta backs Clint Gutherson and Blake Ferguson to ground a Pearce grubber kick just three minutes later to make it 14 unanswered points.
When Gavet charged on to Levi’s short pass and crashed over to score next to the posts in the 27th minute, the Knights led 20-0 – more points than they had scored in the same time frame in their six previous games this season.
But after being outplayed for the first 35 minutes, the Eels hit back late. Having conceded four straight penalties in the first 13 minutes, they received a string of five successive penalties which allowed them to establish field position and build pressure.
Winger Maika Sivo caught Ferguson’s cut-out pass to score in the left corner in the 37th minute, and halfback Mitchell Moses converted from the sideline.
Sivo crashed over again on the stroke of half-time only to have it disallowed because of a forward pass by Gutherson, but the Knights were offside in the lead-up and Moses kicked the subsequent penalty goal to cut the margin to 12 points at the break.
Prop Manu Ma’u charged over to score behind the posts in the 53rd minute to reduce the deficit to 20-14, and the Eels looked like they were storming home.
Ponga kicked a penalty goal in the 59th minute to stretch Newcastle’s lead to eight, giving the nervous Knights some much-needed breathing space, but the Eels continued to surge.
A goal-line tackle by Ponga and Daniel Saifiti on Peni Terepo in the 63rd minute saved a try and forced an error, then Pearce and winger Edrick Lee bundled Ferguson into touch three minutes later.
Those two defensive plays sparked the Knights out of their rut, then Pearce iced the game with a stepping, jinking run in the 69th minute to reach out and score.
Ponga’s conversion from close range increased the margin to 14 points and gave him a personal haul of 16 points from a try and six goals from as many attempts.