St George Illawarra produced 22 unanswered second half points as they launched a stunning comeback to score a 32-28 win over Newcastle.
The Dragons were booed off at half-time trailing 28-10 to the second-last placed Knights at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Sunday.
But St George Illawarra produced their second best comeback in club history to snap a two-game losing run and strengthen their place in the top eight.
The Dragons welcomed back State of Origin stars Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan and started brightly, leading 10-0 inside the opening eight minutes thanks to a Jason Nightingale double. The New Zealand international became the fifth player to score 100 tries for the joint venture club after Brett Morris, Nathan Blacklock and Matt Cooper.
The first after five minutes came from a simple shift to the left, with Nightingale getting on the outside of Brendan Elliot to score. The second three minutes later came from a Tim Lafai break, with Nightingale chasing through a Gareth Widdop grubber kick to touch down.
Just when it looked as though the Dragons were in for a big afternoon, St George Illawarra lost in-form prop Paul Vaughan to a torn calf in his 100th NRL game.
It was from that moment that Newcastle began to gain a foothold, with fullback Nathan Ross getting the Knights back into the game with a try midway through the first half on the back of a strong run and quick play the ball from Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Three minutes later and Newcastle had the lead, this time as Jaelen Feeney produced a deft short pass for Ross to stroll over untouched.
Ross went close again two minutes later only for Dane Gagai to be ruled to have knocked on before he and Ross raced to touch down. The Knights were given a penalty for Lafai holding back Gagai and, from the ensuing set, Fitzgibbon produced another powerful run to carry Dugan and Widdop over the line to score.
Ross had his hat-trick inside half an hour. With the Dragons on the attack, Ross scooped up a loose pass and raced 85 metres to score his sixth try in just his fourth match against the Dragons.
But the Knights weren’t done, as the Dragons allowed a Brock Lamb bomb to bounce. Sione Mata’utia picked up the ball and swung it wide to Elliot for the winger to score. A late Lamb penalty goal gave the Knights a handy 28-10 lead at half-time.
St George Illawarra needed a quick start after the break and they got it when Joel Thompson scored from a Widdop grubber seven minutes into the second half. Dugan then barged over from close range to reduce the deficit to 28-22 with just under half an hour remaining.
The comeback was well and truly on when Nightingale completed his third hat-trick of the season thanks to a perfect cutout pass from Widdop, with Widdop’s sideline conversion leveling the score at 28-all.
And the comeback was complete with 13 minutes remaining as Kurt Mann showed good strength to cross out wide.
Nene Macdonald then had a try disallowed before Frizell had his ankle caught awkwardly under a tackle. The tough back-rower stayed on the field to help the Dragons hold off the Knights who launched one final effort. But it wasn’t enough as St George Illawarra held on for a famous victory.
St George Illawarra Dragons 32 (Jason Nightingale three, Joel Thompson, Josh Dugan, Kurt Mann tries. Gareth Widdop four goals goal)
Newcastle Knights 28 (Nathan Ross three, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Brendan Elliot tries. Brock Lamb four goals)
at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
Leader man of the match: Gareth Widdop (Dragons)
Dragons’ next three: Titans (away), BYE, Raiders (away)