Knights flog Cowboys to keep finals hopes alive
MITCHELL Pearce and Kalyn Ponga have answered their critics and kept Newcastle's finals hopes alive, helping the Knights demolish North Queensland 42-6.
Under fire after the Knights sunk to six straight losses, Ponga and Pearce had a hand in five of Newcastle's seven tries as both picked up doubles at home on Saturday.
The win is a crucial one for Newcastle, who have been the clear beneficiaries of losses by Penrith and Wests Tigers already this weekend and now sit ninth.
They will finish the round just one win out of the top eight, currently with the best for-and-against of the six teams battling it out for the last two finals spots.
It also sets up a blockbuster clash between the Knights and Tigers at Campbelltown next Saturday, which will be a virtual sudden-death match for both sides.
Newcastle also have Gold Coast and Penrith to finish, meaning their first finals series since 2013 is very much in the picture.
Ponga's performance was easily his best since the State of Origin period. He finished with two line breaks and six try assists to go with his double.
He also pulled off a crucial one-on-one, try-saving tackle on Cowboy Coen Hess just after the break, as North Queensland attempted to recover from an 18-6 half-time scoreline.
The Newcastle fullback scored the Knights' first in the seventh minute when he stepped off his left foot and beat three Cowboys defenders from close to the line.
Pearce followed suit the following set, stepping through a gap from inside his own half and going 55m to score.
After the Cowboys hit back through Jake Clifford, Ponga continued to threaten.
He put the Knights on the front foot with a break, only for them to blow it with an errant pass before he went himself on the right edge just before the break to score.
Pearce then iced the match in the second half with another jinking run, this time going through two Cowboys to cross as he stepped off both his right and left from 10m out.
He also laid on a try for second-rower Mitch Barnett with a short ball moments later, before Sione Mata'utia and Mason Lino enhanced the scoreline.
The only concern for the Knights came in the form of a knee concern to Connor Watson, who left the field in the second half and did not return.