Newcastle have imploded as Canterbury lifted themselves off the bottom of the NRL ladder with a rousing 20-14 come-from-behind win.
The Knights and Bulldogs always put on a show. Neither has been top eight material in recent times and matches between the two always present an opportunity to snatch a valuable two competition points.
At McDonald Jones Stadium last night, the match became a gripping and enthralling grapple between two teams determined to win and afraid to lose.
For the Knights, a victory would solidify a spot in the eight, while the Bulldogs dreamed of extricating themselves from the bowels of the ladder with another win, off the back of their Round 15 victory against the Sharks.
It took just six minutes for the home side to hit the scoreboard. Mitchell Pearce rode the wave of exhilaration from Wednesday night and delivered a perfect ball to Shaun Kenny-Dowall to open the scoring in the corner, before Mason Lino nailed the conversion.
It looked ominous for the Dogs, yet they dug in well after being dominated through the centre of the ruck early. In fact, but for a desperate defensive effort on the try line to prevent Marcello Montoya from scoring, the Bulldogs would have drawn level within 30 minutes.
Further chances followed for Canterbury, yet the Knights continued to use their newest weapon; a hard edge in defence inside their own 20 that Nathan Brown has crafted through dint of hard work.
It left the home side leading 6-0 heading to the sheds and most fans a little surprised that more points had not been scored. The Knights had looked the better side and an opening of the floodgates appeared likely after the break.
A Dylan Napa high shot and a continuation of the poor ball control that had hampered the Bulldogs in the opening term led to an early penalty goal to Lino that stretched the locals’ lead to eight.
Sadly for the blue and whites, the errors kept coming in both their attacking and defensive zones until Montoya took an intercept and Will Hopoate crashed over to give the Bulldogs a sniff, as the match neared its final 20 minutes.
Nick Meaney’s conversion brought the Bulldogs to within two and down by 8-6.
Then, the team that can’t play and the coach that can’t coach made their moves. James Gavet was sent to the sin bin for a late hit on Chris Smith and Meaney’s penalty goal brought the teams level at 8-8.
Minutes later, Brandon Wakeham hit Corey Harawira-Naera on the left edge and the try and subsequent conversion sent the Bulldogs to a 14-8 lead. A Newcastle error from the restart gave the Bulldogs more field position and Reimis Smith produced an aerial miracle on the right wing soon after.
With just nine minutes remaining, Meaney’s conversion sent the Dogs to a commanding 20-8 lead.
A bumbling Napa error gave the Knights a sniff when Kenny-Dowall pounced on a dropped ball to score soon after, yet the Bulldogs managed the game well to protect their 20-14 lead all the way to the final whistle.
For a team supposedly bereft of talent and poorly coached, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a morale-boosting fortnight.
Earlier in the evening the Panthers, in search of a sixth straight win and a spot in the top eight, faced the 15th placed Titans.
James Maloney found the energy to back up after an exhausting Origin effort on Wednesday night and young Jed Cartwright made his debut in an increasingly confident Panthers unit.
Just a penalty separated the teams early, after a Maloney kick gave the Panthers the lead. A goal-line infringement from Penrith saw Tyrone Roberts level things up in the 20th minute.
The match was far from one to write home about that point, despite some willing efforts and a few half-chances that both sides failed to parlay into points.
Then, the Titans frustrating season was encapsulated in a ten minute period where they received six straight penalties yet failed to convert and Dylan Edwards scored for the Panthers after they soaked up immense pressure on their own line.
For Titans fans, it was awful to watch.
Insult was added to injury when a sweeping Maloney pass found Brian To’o on the right flank and the winger crossed athletically in the corner. The Blues’ pivot converted to send the mountain men to the lead at the break with a 14-2 advantage and the Titans’ season appeared to be going from bad to worse.
It took some time for the Panthers to assert their dominance after half time – 30 minutes in fact – but Edwards’ second try and another To’o four-pointer sent the Panthers clear, with the hapless Titans looking more and more like the rabble they have unfortunately become.
The 24-2 final score line summed up the current plights of both clubs, with the Titans looking for change and the Panthers on a roll.