NEWCASTLE threatened to produce the upset of the NRL season before succumbing to a 19-18 loss to premiers Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday. A James Maloney field goal in the 78th&nbsp;minute broke the deadlock, after Newcastle fought back from 18-6 down with two never-say-die tries. It was the fourth loss in five games this season for last year’s wooden spooners but a vast improvement on last week, when they were belted 40-0 by Penrith. Hammered 62-0 and 36-4 by Cronulla last season, the Knights provided more opposition in the first half, restricting the home side to a 14-6 lead at the break. Cronulla scored first in the sixth minute when centre Gerard Beale won the race to ground&nbsp;a Chad Townsend grubber kick. Newcastle equalised seven minutes later when English import Joe Wardle scored his first NRL try, pouncing on a left-footed kick from five-eighth Brock Lamb. The Sharks moved two points clear in the 28th&nbsp;minute, when after a string of penalties Maloney opted for a shot at goal. Four minutes later, winger Sosaia Feki scored in the corner after a Valentine Holmes cut-out pass, and Maloney converted from the sideline. Cronulla tightened their grip&nbsp;in the 53rd&nbsp;minute when Holmes burst through on a kick-return, linked with centre Jack Bird, and backed up to score out wide. The Knights got back to within striking distance after a scrum win in the 68th&nbsp;minute, when fullback Brendan Elliot speared through a gap and raced 88 metres to score untouched. Skipper Trent Hodkinson’s goal made it a six-point ball game.&nbsp; Three minutes later, Newcastle were back on level terms when debutant winger Jacob Gagan scored after a Holmes fumble and Hodkinson landed a pressure conversion. The Knights’ cause was not helped when second-rower Sione Mata’utia was taken from the field in the 48th&nbsp;minute after suffering a head knock. Newcastle’s side featured two debutants –&nbsp;both former Sharks –&nbsp;in former Test forward Anthony Tupou and&nbsp;Gagan, who came in to replace injured Nathan Ross (calf).