Bulldogs 16 Knights 12

Bulldog Bulldozer: Tony Williams on the attack for Canterbury in their 16-12 win over the Knights.

Bulldog Bulldozer: Tony Williams on the attack for Canterbury in their 16-12 win over the Knights. Photo: Getty Images

The sight of Alex McKinnon at ANZ Stadium, willing on his teammates, was about as uplifting a scene as there will be in the NRL this season, but the courageous Knight’s inspiration wasn’t quite enough to lift Newcastle to victory over the table-topping Bulldogs.

McKinnon, who is undergoing rehabilitation from a serious neck injury, was in the change room before the game and later watched on in the coaches’ box, from where a shot of him on the big screen received warm and unanimous applause from the 15,286-strong crowd.

The Knights produced an effort befitting of McKinnon’s presence, but were unable to hold on against the Bulldogs who, despite being off their game for much of the night, conjured yet another close win after their unprecedented run of three consecutive one-point victories in the previous three rounds.

Time
80.00
Team
BUL
Score
16
Team
NEW
Score
12
Canterbury-Bankstown versus Newcastle
View Match Statistics
Players Brown, Kasiano, Tolman Tries 3 Tries 2 Players McManus, Rochow
Players Hodkinson 2/3 (66%) Conversions 2 Conversions 1 Players Roberts 1/2 (50%)
Players Penalty goals 0 Penalty goals 1 Players Roberts 1/1 (100%)
Players Field goals 0 Field goals 0 Players

Despite conceding a controversial early try and a six-pointer on the stroke of half-time, the Knights mustered a comeback from 10-4 down at the break to lead 12-10 with less than half an hour to go when bench second-rower Robbie Rochow added to James McManus’s first half try.

Their defensive pressure kept the Bulldogs under the pump but the critical moment came with 10 minutes remaining when a Trent Hodkinson kick was tapped back by Corey Thompson in-goal for Aiden Tolman to score the matchwinner.

The Knights had more possession, more completed sets, gained more metres and missed 13 fewer tackles than their opponents. Yet, Canterbury, led by a 47-tackle effort by hooker Michael Ennis, showed enough composure to secure another tight win.

The Bulldogs ruled the early exchanges but their lead came amid conjecture after a knock-on awarded against them by the on-field referees around the Knights’ 20-metre line was overruled by video referees Bernard Sutton and Andrew Dunemann. From the ensuing attacking phase, Josh Reynolds leapt spectacularly to grab a Hodkinson kick, offloaded smartly and Mitch Brown ended up crashing over out wide.

The Knights had reason to feel aggrieved but channelled their fury into enthusiasm. A period of sustained defensive pressure lifted their confidence and they took a risk when they worked upfield, running on the fifth tackle for McManus to ground the ball in the corner despite the attention of three defenders.

A drawn scoreboard might have been a fair outcome, but the Bulldogs grabbed the advantage with a six-pointer with two minutes left before the break. Following a mistake by Beau Scott, Canterbury’s power forwards came running hard and fast from deep, with Tony Williams barging through Jarrod Mullen and offloading to Sam Kasiano for a try next to the posts.

It seemed the boost Canterbury needed and they came close to scoring at the start of the second half, but for Corey Thompson’s grounding catching a bit of sideline.

However, as they did earlier, Newcastle bit back, chancing their arm again with Tyrone Roberts flick passing for Rochow to burrow over for a converted to try to make it 10-10.

A penalty goal with 27 minutes remaining put the Knights ahead for the first time, but Tolman’s late try snatched back the lead.

Desperation football from both sides late in the match nearly flared into fisticuffs, but there was no change to the score and Canterbury was able to gain some revenge after falling to the Knights in all three of the teams’ encounters last season.