Inspired by their best defensive effort of the season, the Newcastle Knights NSW Cup side recorded an impressive 23-16 victory over last year's premiers the Cronulla Sharks at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.
In a highly competitive match against a strong Sharks side, it was the Knights' defence that proved the difference at the backend of the game.
Fullback Honeti Tuha was outstanding for the home side in attack and defence, while Tyler Randell, Pat Mata'utia, Chris Houston and Zane Tetevano all came up with big plays when it mattered most.
Speaking of big plays, the team's seven-point win was sealed by veteran lock Matt Hilder, who slotted a field goal from 35 metres out with just 11 minutes remaining.
Overall, coach Rick Stone would be extremely happy with the win - a result which consolidates the team's top four position on the competition table.
Newcastle had the dream start to the match when halfback Danny Kerr crossed in just the second minute.
Kerr finished off a frantic play to score. Mantellato added the extras to give the Knights an early 6-0 lead.
The home side crossed again four minutes later when Mantellato did it all himself to beat three defenders and score in the eastern corner.
He missed the kick from the sideline, but it was Newcastle on top leading 10-0 after 10 minutes.
Cronulla looked to have hit back in the 17th minute via fullback Kurt Mann, who knocked on over the line.
Mann didn’t make the same mistake six minutes later when he crossed untouched after a great pass from five-eighth Penani Manumalealii.
The fullback missed the kick from the sideline to reduce Newcastle’s lead to 10-4 with 18 minutes left in the first half.
The Knights responded in the 32nd minute via back-rower Chris Houston, who charged over off a perfect face ball from five-eighth Tyler Randell.
Mantellato converted from the sideline to give Newcastle a 16-4 advantage with five minutes left on the clock in the first stanza.
Cronulla refused to go away though and crossed on the stroke of halftime via Manumalealii.
The halfback barged over next to the uprights after an impressive pass from prop David Fifita.
Mann added the extras from in front to go into the halftime break trailing Newcastle 16-10.
The start of the second half was marred by basic mistakes from both teams.
Cronulla looked destined to score in the 50th minute via centre Justin O'Neill, but he was stopped in his tracks as a result of a brilliant tackle by Pat Mata'utia.
Mata'utia raced off his line and came up with a classic ball and all tackle on O'Neill.
This big play gave the home side plenty of confidence and they extended their lead in the 55th minute with a try to fullback Honeti Tuha.
The No.1 followed up a great run and pass from prop Zane Tetevano to score next to the posts.
Mantellato added the extras to give the Knights a commanding 22-10 lead with 23 minutes left on the clock.
Veteran lock Matt Hilder extended Newcastle's lead in the 69th minute with a field goal from 35 metres out.
Hilder's impressive effort gave the Knights a comfortable 23-10 buffer with just 10 minutes remaining in the match.
Sharks prop David Fifita barged over from close range in the 78th minute and Mann converted to narrow the Knights' lead to 23-16 with seconds remaining.
In the end, Hilder's field goal proved a masterstroke with Newcastle holding on for a seven-point victory.
NSW Cup Team
Tuha, Mantellato, Willame, P.Mata’utia, C.Mata’utia, Randell, Kerr, Siulepa, Waddell, Vaivai, Houston, Tetevano, Hilder. Bench: Redman, Horwood, Elias, Likiliki.
NSW Cup Summary
Newcastle Knights 23 (T: Kerr, Mantellato, Houston, Tuha, G: Mantellato 3/4, FG: Hilder 1)
Cronulla Sharks 16 (T: Mann, Manumalealii, Fifita, G: Mann 2/3)