While the Knights staged a big turnaroud to beat the Sharks by 2 points, their efforts against a largely second string Cronulla side must be sounding alarm bells for coach Brian Smith and his team in Newcastle. In partciular soft line defence saw the Knights get behind by as much asÂ 24-4Â shortly into the second half, before Newcastle rattled four unanswered tries, including a double to rookie Junior Sau, who scored the match winner in the 73rd minute.
Cronulla nearly snatched victory after the siren when lower grader Grant Millington forced a grubber kick, only for the backrower to be ruled offside by referee Shayne Hayne.
Sharks coach Ricky Stuart replaced most of his first-team regulars at the break with an inexperienced line-up after his side had put together an impressive performance to lead 18-4 at half-time.
Returning Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, who missed the Sharks’ first trial through injury, played the majority of the first stanza and was replaced uninjured.
Cronulla recovered from their 44-point drubbing at the hands of Souths last weekend with a more resolute defensive performance, holding the Knights to a solitary try to Kurt Gidley in the first half.
It was an error-prone Newcastle who looked defensively suspect on occasions, giving up a number of soft tries in a flat first-half performance before knuckling down late.
Playing without regular first graders Greg Bird (hamstring), Luke Covell (elbow) and full-back Brett Kearney (hip), it took the Sharks just three minutes to cross the Knights line through Misi Talaupapa.
Newcastle hit back through Gidley in the 22nd minute but the Sharks scored three tries in 10 minutes through Brett Seymour, David Simmons and Brett Kimmorley.
After Stuart’s half-time substitutions and an early second-half try to the Sharks’ Reece Williams, a Jarrod Mullen-inspired Newcastle charged home.
Mullen crossed in the 56th minute and then laid on four-pointers for Sau and Gidley to make it 24-22 before Sau’s match-winner with seven minutes remaining.