Cronulla 14 Newcastle 18

Halted: Akuila Uate is tackled by Jonathan Wright.

Halted: Akuila Uate is tackled by Jonathan Wright. Photo: Getty Images

Cronulla Sharks' off-field turmoil has created many painful moments for the club this season but few would have hurt as much as their four-point loss to the Newcastle Knights on Saturday night.

The Sharks were just two minutes away from sealing one of their most hard-fought wins of their year when Dane Gagai scored a match-winning try on the back of a superb kick by Knights playmaker Jarrod Mullen. In the final move of the match, Mullen turned the Sharks defence inside-out with a cross field kick and the momentum and leap of Dane Gagai shattered the hearts of the Sharks faithful.

Dane Gagai of the Knights celebrates scoring the match-winning try.

Dane Gagai of the Knights celebrates scoring the match-winning try. Photo: Getty Images

Time
80.00
Team
CRO
Score
14
Team
NEW
Score
18
Cronulla versus Newcastle
View Match Statistics
Players Fifita, Graham Tries 2 Tries 3 Players Gagai(2), Roberts
Players Carney 2/2 (100%) Conversions 2 Conversions 2 Players Gidley 2/3 (66%)
Players Carney 1/1 (100%) Penalty goals 1 Penalty goals 1 Players Gidley 1/1 (100%)
Players Field goals 0 Field goals 0 Players

It may have come late but it was a deserved victory for the Knights who finished the match as they began, the stronger of the the two sides. Their expansive play and willingness to bring their wingers Akila Uate and James McManus into play tested the Sharks' defence early in the patch and the kicking game of Mullen pegged the hosts deep into their own half. However, the hosts opened the scoring against the run of play through the combination of NSW Origin forwards Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita. The Sharks captain looked to be comfortably contained by Newcastle's defence but he squirmed through one tackler to flick an offload out to Fifita and with no marker in sight, the big forward ran unopposed to score beneath the posts.

The Knights playmakers moved them into attacking range but unforced errors and poor decision-making prevented them drawing level. But just as they looked like a try before the break was out of their reach, Gagai scored his first try of the match.

A Jarrod Mullen cross-field kick caught the Sharks defence by surprise and as Uate beat Feki in the air, a try seemed the only outcome. An immediate offload found Gagai on the fly and the quick centre beat Michael Gordon to the try-line.

Kurt Gidley showed that his two-month stint on the sidelines gave him a superb vision from acute angles as he comfortable slotted his conversion from the touchline.

It was hardly a surprise when tempers reached boiling point moments before the half-time siren when an Ben Pomeroy lead with his elbow in a tackle which sparked an all-in brawl. The Sharks centre was placed on report for sending his forearm crashing down on Kurt Gidley's chin but the Newcastle veteran had the last laugh as he slotted the resulting penalty from close range to seal an 8-6 lead by half-time.

Whether it was nerves, tension or simply frustration, the resumption of play was riddled with handling errors from both teams. The Knights were denied a try when Kade Snowden spilled the ball over the line and the error became a 12-point turn around from the resulting play, when another handling error gifted Wade Graham an easy four-pointer. Jarrod Mullen uncharacteristically spilled a tame Carney kick allowing Graham to pounce on the loose ball and score.

But the hosts didn't have to wait long to claim their only gift try. Nathan Stapleton lost control of the ball metres out from his own line and Tyrone Roberts further punished his gaff by scoring in the corner. A missed conversion set the score at 12-all.

A Todd Carney penalty goal broke the deadlock to put the Sharks on course for another home victory but a dramatic finish was far from scrapped. In the Knights' last roll of the dice, Mullen tormented the Sharks for one last time and his snap-kick to the corner caught the hosts wide defence napping for the second time, allowing Gagai to seal a hero's finish.

NEWCASTLE 18 (D Gagai 2 T Roberts tries K Gidley 3 goals) bt CRONULLA 14 (A Fifita W Graham tries T Carney 3 goals) at Remondis Stadium. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Chris James. Crowd: 11,538.