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The return of star halfback Mitchell Pearce inspired Newcastle to a crucial 28-20 win over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

Playing just his seventh game of the season and his first in a month, Pearce scored a try on the stroke of half-time and kicked astutely to guide the Knights into the top eight for the time being at least.

Pearce also ran for 96 metres and had a try assist but it was the 32-year-old's composure that most impressed coach Adam O'Brien.

"We had a lot of ball on their line early and I felt like we were frustrated and we thought we were entitled to score and 'Junior' was the one that calmed them down and we finished the half much better thanks to him," O'Brien said.

"With the early possession I think we got a little bit too excited and a bit impatient but with Mitch's experience, he can feel that we were impatient."

That early pressure saw the Knights come away empty after seven sets on Brisbane's line inside the opening 10 minutes and as often happens it was the side doing all the defending who managed to come away with points when they finally made it to the other end of the field.

Impressive young fullback Tesi Niu crossed in the 13th minute to give Brisbane an unlikely lead but it was shortlived as Jake Clifford crossed seven minutes later and the Knights led 6-4.

Niu then turned provider as he went left and drew in Kurt Mann before sliding a nice ball out to winger Corey Oates for a try.

Niu threads the pass to Oates

Despite their lack of ball the Broncos looked set to lead at the break before Pearce produced a trademark left foot step to beat a couple of defenders before reaching out to score the 76th try of his 304-game career.

The Knights then took charge in the second half with Lachlan Fitzgibbon scoring off a Kalyn Ponga grubber to make it 18-8 before Mitch Barnett crossed in the 59th minute to make it 24-8.

Four minutes later Ponga hit the afterburners and found Bradman Best who sent the ball to Enari Tuala to touch down for the Knights' fifth try.

Brisbane pulled one back through second-gamer Xavier Willison in the 67th minute and when Herbie Farnworth crossed six minutes later there were heart flutters in the Knights' coaching box but they clung on.

Leading the way up front for Newcastle were NSW Origin prop Daniel Saifiti (20 runs, 206 metres) and former Blue David Klemmer (16 runs, 185 metres) while Tyson Frizell (14 runs, 178 metres) produced one of his best games of the season.

The Knights' win had even more merit given they had just four days to recover from their round 20 win over the Raiders at the same venue last Sunday.

Pearce feeds Barnett as the Knights extend their lead

"I just said to the team it's four points in four days," O'Brien said. "Eight hours on buses. That's a big effort, especially in the modern game with the rule changes to do that, and there was a lot of emotion went into last week to try and get that win [over Canberra] on the back of a couple of losses.

"They found a way to get themselves not only physically right over the last couple of days but also mentally to go out and compete.

"I thought that was our biggest asset tonight. It wasn't clinical, it looked like we hadn't trained and we hadn't... especially in the first half it looked like we had just met each other at times.

"We've only played one game [against the Cowboys in round 16]  with our full spine. Jayden Brailey wasn't there tonight.

Bunker rules try to Fitzgibbon

"We have a longer turnaround now thankfully and we can rest first and get our spine together and get some training.

"I'd like to think our best footy is still in front of us whereas some other teams that have had their full list all year might not have that but we can still go that way with our footy because we're together."

The Knights now sit on 20 competition points and will watch with interest as the teams on 18 points (Titans, Sharks, Raiders, Dragons) battle it out over the weekend.

O'Brien will be hoping the nine-day turnaround allows Fitzgibbon (shoulder), Best (shoulder) and Hymel Hunt (head knock) time to recover and take their place for a massive showdown against the Sharks, another of the teams locked in the battle for seventh and eighth.