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'Crazy scene in the tunnel': Hetherington in strife after scuffle outside sheds, Ponga hobbled as Dogs flog Knights

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21st April, 2024
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Jack Hetherington could face sanctions from the NRL after vision emerged of the fiery Newcastle forward appearing to throw a punch at Bulldogs hooker Reed Mahoney in the players’ tunnel after they were both banished to the sin bin.

Fox League has aired footage of Hetheringon waiting for Mahoney outside the dressing rooms at Accor Stadium in the dying stages of Canterbury’s 36-12 win after they were each dismissed for an on-field scuffle.

Hetherington is smiling and looks like he could be joking around but Mahoney is not looking at his opponent who hits him in the shoulder with a left jab before a Knights official steps in to usher him away.

“That is a crazy scene to see in the tunnel,” Fox League analyst Cooper Cronk says before Braith Anasta, who says he knows Hetherington “quite well’ and believes he was trying to instigate a fight.

“Although it may look like he’s geeing up, I don’t think he is. I think he’s serious. He’s a little bit crazy, Jack.”

Hetherington has a lengthy judiciary record and could cop a hefty ban if the match review committee charges him for the bizarre incident.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: Daniel Saifiti of the Knights is tackled during the round seven NRL match between Canterbury Bulldogs and Newcastle Knights at Accor Stadium, on April 21, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Daniel Saifiti is tackled. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Mahoney had received a huge ovation from the home fans a few minutes from full-time after he and Hetherington were sin-binned in the dying stages for their involvement in the scuffle, the only time Newcastle showed any fight for the afternoon.

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Canterbury showed they are continuing to rediscover their bite under Cameron Ciraldo to boost their hopes of a playoff return but the Knights are hurtling towards the bottom of the ladder with Kalyn Ponga again injured.

When referee Peter Gough sent Hetherington for an early shower in the 77th minute, he threw the ball at Mahoney. No punches were thrown but they were banished because they kept niggling at each other after being told to cool down, or “being silly” as Gough put it.

On the field, Canterbury showed they are continuing to rediscover their bite under Cameron Ciraldo to boost their hopes of a playoff return but the Knights are hurtling towards the bottom of the ladder with Kalyn Ponga again injured.

The Bulldogs ran rampant at Accor Stadium on Sunday to blow Newcastle away and the heat is increasing on coach Adam O’Brien after his side slumped to their fifth win from seven starts and they now face the prospect of Ponga being sidelined with a foot injury.

He entered the match hampered by a hip injury and looked well below his best before exiting the contest in the 51st minute with a foot problem, finishing the match looking on from the sidelines in a moonboot.

Ponga was left on the field the previous week against the Roosters when he was barely able to move due to his hip problem and this time around he was not much better, making just seven runs for a paltry 52 metres before he was replaced.

“It’s a ligament in the foot. As far as I know it’s pretty rare but it’s not great signs for us,” he said. “It was nothing to do with the hip pointer.”

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He said it was similar to a Lisfranc injury which can sideline players for several weeks, if not months, but they will not have an accurate diagnosis until Ponga has scans on Monday.

“I didn’t foresee any of this,” O’Brien said about the team’s poor performance. “I didn’t see it coming. We played like a frustrated footy team. Me, players, staff, everyone; we’re hugely disappointed.

He said they needed to rediscover their love of the game and seemed to be struggling with the weight of expectations after surging into fifth place to qualify for last year’s finals.

The Dogs started the season with a couple of heavy defeats but have upset the Roosters and were unlucky to lose to Melbourne by two recently but there was never a doubt that they would win this match after dominating from start to finish.

Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr reminded NSW selectors of his attacking strikepower out wide and he could have a couple of teammates in Origin camp this year with Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton also having a field day against the tackle-shy Knights.

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“I felt like we’ve been in every game,” Ciraldo said. “I feel like we’re learning along the way and today was a culmination of a big seven weeks for us.

“I think we’ve come a long way, everyone can see that but we’ve got a long way to go. I still feel like there’s a lot of improvement in us.”

Chris Patolo went off early with MCL injury and bench prop Sam Hughes was the unlikely first try-scorer when he backed his way through a flimsy defensive line from close range.

The initial fears are that Patolo has torn the ligament and is facing several months on the sidelines.

Canterbury doubled their lead midway through the first half when Burton and Connor Tracey combined to put Jacob Kiraz over in the corner in what looked like a glorified training drill against the visiting team’s disjointed defensive line.

Newcastle registered the only highlight amid a first half of lowlights on the half-hour mark when Tyson Gamble, recalled at five-eighth after Jack Cogger was dropped to the NSW Cup, found Dylan Lucas running hard on the right edge to cut the gap to six.

But it was 18-6 before the half-time break when it was Bulldogs centre Bronson Xerri’s turn to show up the Newcastle goal-line defence by powering over from a simple one-pass play from Mahoney at dummy-half.

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It was the former Sharks prodigy’s first try since the 2019 finals series after he spent four years out of the sport due to his performance-enhancing drugs ban.

Newcastle’s first half was diabolical. “They’re ineffective, lacking intensity, lacking commitment,” Cronk said on Fox League.

Ponga gifted Bailey Hayward his first try in the NRL nine minutes into the second half when he tried to shepherd a Mahoney grubber over the dead-ball line but the Canterbury rookie pounced in the nick of time.

The Newcastle captain was replaced a couple of minutes later in a virtual waving of the white flag from O’Brien with his side down 24-6.

Any flickering hope of a Knights comeback was extinguished in the 60th minute when Tracey continued his impressive switch to fullback by creating an overlap out wide and hot potato-ing the ball for a flying Foxx in Josh Addo-Carr to evade the cover defence at the corner post.

Crichton created and completed a slick backline movement in the closing stages, getting the better of NSW selection rival Bradman Best to cap off Canterbury’s comprehensive victory over a team that thumped them 66-0 in the corresponding match last year.

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On that occasion the Bulldogs players were booed off the field but there were nothing but cheers this time around after the new-look line-up’s most complete performance of the season.

Best notched in the final minute but it was nothing more than a consolation try for the badly beaten visitors.

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