Mitchell Pearce kicked Newcastle into the NRL finals and threw Gold Coast’s hopes of a top-eight return into disarray in a thrilling 15-14 win over the Titans.
In a dramatic finale to the Thursday night opener, Pearce nailed a field goal from 25 metres out with 15 seconds to play to seal the crucial victory.
It moves Newcastle six points clear of the chasing pack in seventh, securing their second straight finals appearance with one round to play.
But it comes as a killer blow to the Titans.
Widely tipped to be the biggest improvers of the 2021 season after finishing last year with five straight wins and recruiting strongly, the Titans now need a minor miracle.
They will need to beat the Warriors and hope that neither Canberra or Cronulla win both of their last two games.
The Raiders face the Warriors on Friday night before clashing with the Sydney Roosters next week, while Cronulla have Brisbane this weekend and Melbourne in round 25.
While the Storm clash should be a difficult one for the Sharks, there is every chance Melbourne will rest a bulk of players and make life much easier.
Gold Coast will also need to make up a 15-point disadvantage in for-and-against to the Sharks, making the Titans life even harder.
And while defence has been Gold Coast’s biggest issue all season, they were only cracked twice on the Sunshine Coast.
Both of the Knights’ tries came courtesy of good work from Kalyn Ponga, who was easily the Novocastrians’ best.
After the Titans scored first through Phillip Sami, Ponga hit back when he charged onto the ball at first-receiver and made it 6-6.
Gold Coast took a 12-6 lead to the break through a rampaging David Fifita, before Ponga again made an impact with 20 minutes to go when he put Pearce over.
The game kicked to life with 11 minutes to play when Jarrod Wallace was penalised for taking Mitchell Pearce out well after he’d passed the ball.
It allowed Jake Clifford to kick the Knights two points clear.
But the Titans levelled up moments later when Clifford was pinged for a high shot on Jayden Campbell, leaving the scores at 14-14 with five minutes to play.
Both sides traded field goal shots, with Titans centre Patrick Herbert sending his attempt wide while Clifford’s was charged down before Pearce stepped up at the death.
It marked the most crucial kick of the Knights’ season, booting them into just their second finals series in eight years.