Newcastle Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce has made a successful return from injury, steering his side to a 18-16 victory over the Parramatta Eels at Hunter Stadium this evening.
Pearce scored a crucial try and had a hand in another in an excellent display from the former Blues halfback which inevitably proved the difference for the home side, despite a return to form from Eels star Jarryd Hayne, who sparked the Eels attack at various times throughout the match.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown will be relieved to come away with the two points after Eels winger Bevan French went millimetres from snatching a dramatic win for the visitors, however the Eels flyer just grazed the touchline chasing down a Corey Norman grubber with just 30 seconds left on the clock.
Parramatta came into the match with plenty to play for, with the fear of receiving this year's dreaded Wooden Spoon a reality unless they can get on a run in the next few weeks. The signs were very positive in the first 10 minutes of the match as the Eels pack marched down field, with unlikely first tryscorer Siosaia Vave crashing over next to the posts after some soft line defence from the home side.
Jarryd Hayne then turned back the clock for the Eels, breaking multiple tackles and then firing a pass for speedster Bevan French, who then raced down the touchline and kicked the ball back in field finding Mitchell Moses on the spot to score their second try.
French then turned villain knocking on off the next set, allowing the Knights some possession and Pearce then looked for a repeat set grubbering the ball in-goal which bounced wickedly for Eels fullback Clint Gutherson who lost control, with the ball then deflecting off Connor Watson's chin. Watson then dived on the ball to score and the Knights were back in the game. Ken Sio converted out wide to narrow the scoreline to 10-6.
Both sides then demonstrated as to why they were not finals contenders this season, with a calamity of handling errors seeing neither side being able to take advantage which led to a collective 10 errors and zero points.
The Knights finally made the Eels pay however, when a wayward Gutherson pass from dummy half was dived upon by the Knights defence in the home side's attacking zone. A neat offload from Daniel Saifiti saw the ball shift through the Knights right hand side to the wing of Shaun Kenny-Dowall and the former Roosters planted the ball over the tryline to tie the score line up at 10 all just before Halftime.
The Knights then hit the lead shortly after the break, when Pearce steamed onto a slick offload from veteran Chris Heighington to score under the posts and extend the home side's lead to 16-10 after Sio's conversion.
Kenny-Dowall then followed in the footsteps of his opposite Bevan French, when he fumbled the ball in his own half. Jarryd Hayne then beat three would be tacklers and found Corey Norman at speed and the five-eighth raced away to score and get the Eels back in the game, with Gutherson's conversion leveling the scores at 16 all.
The Eels discipline again let them down at crucial times, when the Knights were awarded a penalty from right in front of the posts for a sloppy attempted strip on Connor Watson and Sio added the extras to give the Knights the two point advantage.
Despite a late scare from Bevan French with just seconds remaining, the Knights held on for a scrappy but valuable victory in front of their home fans.
The Knights now turn their attention to Round 19, where they will host the Gold Coast Titans next Saturday, where they will be hopeful of the return of their superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga. With the return of Pearce and also Ponga, the Knights will fancy their chances in causing a few headaches for teams in the backend of the season.
The Eels meanwhile face their arch rivals Canterbury in what could prove to be a deciding factor in who will collect this year's Wooden Spoon next Friday night at ANZ Stadium.