The Newcastle Knights somehow held on to win despite a second half South Sydney Rabbitohs onslaught.
Holding on by just two points to win 20-18 at Bankwest Stadium, it was a return to form for fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Criticised over the last month for his inconsistency or lack of involvement, coach Adam O’Brien knew he would bounce back.
“We expect a lot of him, OK. He expects a lot of himself. I thought he was outstanding tonight right from the start,” O’Brien said.
“And he had a bit of a look about him this week that pleased me at training.
“In saying that, I thought the team played better … so that’s going to help him.
He’s a byproduct of the team, it’s not just everything on Kalyn’s shoulders.”
Both teams had their early chances but it was young gun Bradman Best who produced the first piece of magic.
Showing skill and technique of an experienced centre, Best used his size to set up Enari Tuala for the opener.
Very soon after and perhaps catching the Rabbitohs off-guard, the two Knights halves combined.
Kurt Mann hit the line at speed and Mitchell Pearce delivered a perfect pass for the five-eighth to crash over.
Ponga then stood up and produced some magic of his own.
With a mix of speed, power and all-round good play, he sliced the Rabbitohs wide open and outpaced them all to score.
Ponga would then turn provider in the second half, with a deft left foot grubber finding Best who planted the ball down.
Down but not out, the Rabbitohs went on the rampage and would score three tries in quick succession.
The first came after some soft defence saw prop Mark Nicholls power over.
The second was set up by an Alex Johnston line-break. Damien Cook then scurried over from dummy half to get the Rabbitohs second.
It could have been a third in quick time but Thomas Burgess was ruled to have lost the ball in the act of scoring.
Debutant Jaxson Paulo then laid on a kick back inside and Damien Cook nabbed a double.
Try as they might after that, the Rabbitohs could not crack the line again and the Knights defence held firm.
For Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett, his side just did not play well enough for the eighty minutes and it cost them.
“We put an effort in towards the end there and got ourselves back in it,” Bennett said.
“I wasn’t impressed with that [first 65 minutes].
“Newcastle played well early and put us under the pump a fair bit and we just took a long time to get ourselves back into the game.
“I see it as a group of guys that didn’t play for 80 minutes … They just reminded us all how good they can be.”
Ponga, who wears his heart on his sleeve, knows how crucial defence is for his side.
“Defence wins games at the end of the day. That’s the thing that we’ve been focusing on a lot as a team and as a spine,” Ponga said.
“Off the back of that, you defend well [and] you give yourself opportunities to score.
“We did that for 60 minutes and then sort of fell off at the back end.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Bradman Best (NEW)
2. Kalyn Ponga (NEW)
- Damien Cook (SOU)