The Newcastle Knights have moved level with first place in the Tarsha Gale Cup, after defeating the league-leading Illawarra Steelers in a 24-22 nail-biter that nearly saw the travelling southern team stage a major comeback.

It was heavy Knights traffic in the first half of the first vs second clash, with the hosts kicking the scoring off at Dudley Oval with a sublime breakaway down the wing by Carissa Harrison. The left-flank winger was delivered the ball off second phase play from an offload, before she streaked away from her opposite number to chalk up the first four points of the clash.

Steelers centre Teagan Berry answered in kind just four minutes later, with Olivia Vale levelling the score through her kick conversion. Then star fullback Jorja Holden came alive in the centre of the park for the Knights.

The young leading lady slipped two defenders in her own half and broke away from the pack, leaving the two Illawarra chasers in the dust as she soared home to put the Knights ahead by a converted kick once more.

The 12-6 margin stayed the same right up until the half-time whistle, and the Knights headed into the sheds with the pontential two points under their belts – if they could keep the high-flying Steelers from their line.

While Riley Scott did eventually score for the away side in the 29th minute, two rapid-fire tries for the hosts from Ashlee Russell and Harrison, who bagged the double off her effort in the 32nd minute, put the Knights back in the driver’s seat for the next 10 minutes.

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The pressure mounted on the ladies in red and blue, as Olivia Vale and Chantel Tugaga both crossed the white stripe in the 42nd and 45th minutes to put the Steelers into the lead off the kick, and the win seemed to be slipping away from the Knights.

Rampaging Caitlan Johnston, brought back into proceedings in the second half, proved the hero of Dudley Oval for Newcastle however, as she smashed her way through the Steelers’ defensive line to chalk up the eventual winner in the 49th minute.

It was a crucial effort for the Knights, as they held the Steelers out for the following 11 minutes and delivered the travelling squad their first defeat of the 2019 season.

The win now puts the Knights level on 12 points, behind only on a +168 to +144 point difference. Now Newcastle travel away to the Sydney Roosters-backed Indigenous Academy, who they will face at Ted Doyle Oval on Saturday, March 30. Kick-off for the Round 8 clash will be at 1pm.

STANDINGS: Steelers, Knights (12), Eels, Tigers (10), Dragons, Panthers (8), Raiders (4), Indigenous Academy, Sharks (2), Bulldogs (0).