Cessnock survived a pressure-cooker final five minutes to score a 26-22 win against Kurri Kurri at The Graveyard on Saturday.
Goannas wing Joey Woodbury scored his second hat-trick of the season including a length-of-the-field try for his second in the first half to give Cessnock a 10-8 lead.
Kurri Kurri dominated the first 20 minutes but were only able to score a try by Tyme Dow-Nickau and conversion and penalty goals by Jarom Haines.
Bulldogs back-rower Reid Alchin crossed in the 36th minute and Haines slotted home the conversion to give Kurri a 14-10 at the break.
Both sides were guilty of errors in a high-pressure opening to the second half and the Goannas finally opened the scoring in the 50th minute with back-rower Reed Hugon running onto an excellent cut-out pass and into a hole for a converted try to take a 16-14 lead.
Nick Lawrence extended the lead with a clever dummy-half run in the 57th minute and when Scott Briggs converted again Cessnock led 22-14.
Bulldogs wing Barry McGrady got one back on his opposite Woodbury grabbing an intercept near the Bulldogs line and racing to the other end to score a try. The conversion was waved away and the Goannas lead was cut to 22-18.
Woodbury's scored his third in the 68th minute at the end of a Goannas set from a knock-on from the kick-off following McGrady's try for a 26-18 game
It proved the match-winner but there were still plenty of twists with Sam Wooton crossing the line after finishing on the end of a ricocheting ball from a Ngangarra Barker kick.
Haines missed the conversion and with four minutes to play the score was 26-22.
Never far from the action, Goannas utility Paul Carter was sin-binned with 90 seconds left on the clock for disputing a referee's call.
The Goannas defenders held on and the club scored their third win in a row and fourth of the season to go equal on points with Kurri, South Newcastle and Maitland.
The Lions play Lakes United at Peacock Field and the Pickers travel down to Harker Oval to play Wests, who will be smarting after their loss to the Goannas last round.