Sharks escape with narrow win over Knights
IF ever Newcastle needs an x-factor player like Jack Bird it's now.
Making no secret of their desire to sign the NSW Origin representative, the Knights are desperate to make a marquee signing and he's not the only Cronulla superstar they've made a player for.
First Valentine Holmes snubbed the Knights to re-sign on a lucrative deal, Matt Prior too decided to stay in the shire and what Bird decides is anyone's guess.
With a team of rookies who are playing for little more than pride and their futures, Nathan Brown's men almost caused the upset of the season in a thrilling 19-18 win on Saturday afternoon.
Celebrating Chris Heighington's 300th game, the Sharks were pushed to their limits by the battlers of the competition.
It took less than six minutes for the Sharks to strike when Chad Townsend dropped a perfectly weighted grubber kick through for Gerard Beale who won the race for the ball in what was a rather lacklustre effort from former Shark Jacob Gagan.
Bird meant business, getting in the face of Peter Mata'utia, forcing him to throw a rushed pass into touch but when Andrew Fiifta dropped the pill, a 20-year-old struck.
Brock Lamb delivered a grubber for Joe Wardle who scored in his second NRL appearance and Trent Hodkinson levelled the scores.
It was a bruising match.
Prior smashed Jamie Buhrer forcing a mistake and a second later Ricky Leutele looked to have scored before the head of Brendan Elliott forced the ball out of the centre's hands and saved a try.
Jack Stockwell and Paul Gallen were nursing headaches thanks to a head clash which opened up both men.
A penalty goal to Maloney pushed the home side ahead by two, not that they needed it.
Sosaia Feki crossed in the corner following a brilliant cut-out ball from Valentine Holmes.
Trailing 14-6 at the break, the visitors lost Sione Mata'utia early in the second half due to concussion.
Then the Sharks' No.1 showed just why he was so sought after.
Holmes broke through the line on a kick return and stepped past Mitch Barnett before linking with Bird.
The centre summed up the situation, found the fullback on the inside and Holmes finished the try in the corner.
A few minutes later and Bird looked over for all money on the back of an angled run before losing the ball in his attempt to ground the ball.
The Knights have 15 men from their top 25 off-contract this year and the pressure is on for them to secure new contracts.
Perhaps they should make a play for Luke Lewis next?
While the back-rower turns 34 in August, he continues to get better with age. He runs hard, hits hard and secures repeat sets with grubber kicks better than most halves.
With 12 minutes left on the clock, Elliot produced a game changer, taking the ball from the back of the scrum, brushing past Holmes and sprinting 90 metres to score under the posts.
Trailing by six points, the Knights lifted the tempo. Mata'utia put a grubber down the left side which bounced awkwardly for Holmes who couldn't take it.
Enter Gagan who slammed the ball down as cool as a cucumber, Trent Hodkinson levelled the scores.
With the game in the balance and an upset on the card, James Maloney potted a field goal with two minutes left on the clock to clinch victory for the defending premiers.