Fresh Newcastle Knights recruit Mitchell Pearce has steered his team to a one-point victory over the Manly Sea Eagles last night.

Meanwhile the North Queensland Cowboys finished on-top of the Cronulla Sharks in Townsville last night.

Pearce completed a dream debut for Newcastle, kicking his team to a thrilling 19-18 golden-point victory over Manly in his first game for the club.

After teenage superstar Kalyn Ponga lit McDonald Jones Stadium alight in both attack and defence, Pearce nailed a 20-metre field goal in the penultimate minute of extra time to kick-start the club's new era.


Pearce and Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans both missed chances earlier in extra-time, but it was the NSW State of Origin No.7 who sent the Knights' biggest home crowd since 2015 into delirium.

"It's a special feeling," Pearce, who was approached by Manly in the off-season, said.

"You can't hide away from it ... there's been so many of us who have come to the club and been welcomed.

"I knew it was going to be a tight game ... to start the season in that way is special for sure."

Kalyn Ponga kicked off his Knights debut with a try. Photo / Getty Images
Kalyn Ponga kicked off his Knights debut with a try. Photo / Getty Images

The Knights earlier looked to have victory secure in normal time before Cherry-Evans kicked a 39-metre penalty goal in the dying minutes to send the game to golden point.

While Pearce was the eventual hero, 19-year-old Ponga's performance will be the one that has Knights fans dreaming of long-term success after three consecutive wooden spoons.

The recruit scored the Knights' first try of the match when he broke through three Manly defenders to cross in front of 23,516 fans.

He also put in two certain try-savers on both Manly wingers in the second half, just as the Sea Eagles threatened to take control of the match away from Nathan Brown's team.

"There's been a lot of talk about Kalyn," Brown said.

"To score a try and kick three-from-three in his first game for a 19-year-old kid who has had more hype than most players have ever had, I think it's fair to say he's done a pretty good job for us."

In a see-sawing battle, neither team got more than one try ahead after Manly responded to Ponga and Griffin's tries through points of their own to Jorge Taufua and Shaun Lane.

Manly then took the lead through Brian Kelly midway through the second half, only for Watson to put Lachlan Fitzgibbon over on the left edge to put Newcastle up 18-16.

However Fitzgibbon became the villain when he was called offside from a charged down Mitchell Pearce kick just before full-time, allowing Cherry-Evans to level the scores at 18-18 and send it to golden point.

"I'm not walking out of here ashamed, definitely not," Manly coach Trent Barrett said.

"No dramas from our end, we could have easily won that game but for a lack of holding the ball."

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The loss of Michael Morgan could not stop North Queensland toasting Johnathan Thurston's 300th NRL game with a 20-14 round-one victory over Cronulla in Townsville.

The night was always going to be about Cowboys co-captain Thurston, who kickstarted his 17th and final season with his landmark game that also eclipsed Matt Bowen's club-record 270-match mark.

And Thurston revelled in the spotlight, setting up two tries including a 78th- minute match winner to back-rower Gavin Cooper.

"It was pretty fast. There was a fair bit of rust out there," Thurston said of his comeback match from a shoulder injury.

"I am kind of glad the week is over so we can now get on with the season."

The Cowboys lost Morgan (abdominal) before kickoff, replaced by Te Maire Martin in the starting halves alongside man of the moment Thurston.

It was a major blow for the Cowboys who also had fullback Lachlan Coote (hamstring) and centre Kane Linnett (pectoral) sidelined.

However, Thurston ensured the limelight was again firmly on him by celebrating his milestone game in style.

It was the official return from injury for Thurston (shoulder) and fellow co- captain Matt Scott (knee).

"Te Maire did a great job. It doesn't matter who comes into the team, we have faith that they will get the job done but, hopefully, those boys are back in the coming weeks," Thurston said.

The Cowboys celebrated the win in front of 15,900 fans with many believed to have missed the game due to floodwaters north of Townsville.

Thurston didn't waste time making an impact as North Queensland grabbed a 14-8 halftime lead.

Jason Taumalolo is tackled by Matt Moylan and Jayden Brailey. Photo / Getty Images
Jason Taumalolo is tackled by Matt Moylan and Jayden Brailey. Photo / Getty Images

After Cronulla grabbed an early penalty, Thurston set up Justin O'Neill to score in the 23rd minute.

The Cowboys were ahead 10-2 after Coen Hess scored off a Jake Granville inside ball in the 27th minute, before the Sharks bit back through prized recruit Josh Dugan (31st).

North Queensland looked like they would run away with it when winger Kyle Feldt scored in the 35th minute off a Martin 'Hail Mary' pass to make it 14-8.

But Martin turned villain when he threw an intercept to Ricky Leutele who set up James Segeyaro for a 68th-minute runaway try to cut the lead to 16-14.

Thurston ensured it went to script when his clever grubber was snapped up by Cooper.

Cronulla winger Sione Katoa was sent to hospital with a suspected fractured jaw suffered in the 52nd minute.

The Sharks were without veteran back-rower Luke Lewis, who injured his ankle at Thursday's captain's run in Townsville.

"We beat ourselves there," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.

"I am pleased with the effort but all those errors came back to haunt us."

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