Illawarra have kept their finals hopes alive after securing a nail-biting 34-32 victory over the Newcastle Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
With Illawarra coming off a last start lacklustre performance against Penrith, there were worrying signs early in the game when the Knights scored within the first sixty seconds, courtesy of Nick Meaney.
The visitors shook off the poor start, swinging momentum back in their favour when youngsters Jack Payne, Luciano Leilua and Pat Herbert combined down the right edge to score Illawarra's first points.
A determined Payne found himself in the action moments later, never giving up on a wayward kick off the boot from Jai Field, brushing through Knights defenders to plant the ball in the in-goal.
Illawarra found their way over the line again, when a great offload from experienced campaigner Will Matthews found Adam Clune.
Clune linked up with brother Sam, who finished it with a superb draw and pass to put Jai Field over.
Rookie winger Matheson Johns crossed for try on the half-time buzzer to give Illawarra a healthy 24-6 lead.
As was the case in the first 40, the Knights came out all guns blazing crossing for an important try shortly after play's resumption to Pasami Saulo to narrow the gap back to two converted tries.
Moments later a penalty goal to Illawarra’s Field extended their lead to 14, before Knight Jaelen Feeney crossed to get his side back into the contest.
The pendulum well and truly swung back in favour of the hosts who ran in three consecutive tries through Thomas Cronan, Jacob Gagan and Feeney – the Knights grabbing a six-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
A daring cross-field kick from Clune found a leaping Jordan Pereira, who toppled over Knights defenders to score his first try in the Intrust Super Premiership.
A pressure goal was successful off the boot of Field to level the scores at 32-apiece with less than five minutes left on the clock.
Herbert put his hand up to take a field goal at the death but was swamped by Knights defenders. The referees determined them to be offside gifting Illawarra a chance at a penalty goal.
A steady Field slotted the goal to secure his side a two-point lead and a return to the top eight of the Intrust Super Premiership.
Illawarra 34 (Patrick Herbert, Jack Payne, Jai Field, Matheson Johns, Jordan Pereira tries; Jai Field 7 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 32 (Jacob Gagan 2, Jaelen Feeney 2, Pasami Saulo, Thomas Cronan tries; Nick Meaney 4 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle.