FAVOURABLE results from other games has kept the Knights in control of their own destiny despite a 26-10 loss to NRL leaders Canterbury at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
The Knights remained in ninth position on 22 points, equal with the Titans, Tigers, Raiders and Dragons, although the Tigers can claw their way out of that five-team logjam into outright eighth by beating the last-placed Eels at Campbelltown tonight.
Newcastle have the toughest run of all the contenders, facing top-eight teams Cronulla (home), Manly (away), North Queensland (away) and South Sydney (home) in their last four games, but captain Danny Buderus said the Knights had not given up hope.
The Knights welcome the rejuvenated Sharks, who thrashed the Warriors 45-4 in Auckland yesterday, to Hunter Stadium next Monday night, and Buderus said that was the only game he and his teammates were worried about.
‘‘No, not for us, I don’t think,’’ Buderus said, when asked if losing to the Bulldogs was a setback.
‘‘We’re a team that will draw a positive out of anything, and I think we’ll draw a positive out of the second half, but we’ve just got to fix these starts. We’ve got to turn it into a positive.’’
Playing almost perfect football, the Bulldogs scored four converted tries in the first 17 minutes to lead 24-0 and leave the Knights – and most of the crowd of 29,482 – in a state of shock.
Newcastle ‘‘won’’ the next three quarters 10-2, and Canterbury’s two points came from a Krisnan Inu penalty goal in the final minute.
The Knights recovered from an 18-0 deficit after 16 minutes against the Warriors in Auckland a fortnight ago to win 24-19, and Buderus said they still believed they could recover from the 24-0 hole they dug themselves against the Dogs.
Winger Aku Uate scored in the final minute of the first half to post Newcastle’s first points, then scored again in the 51st minute and Tyrone Roberts converted from the sideline to trim the margin to 24-10.
Video referee Bernard Sutton denied Willie Mason a try in the 55th minute due to lack of evidence. Sutton sent the decision back to Brett Suttor, who disallowed it by ruling Mason knocked on after Inu spilled Jarrod Mullen’s kick.
That was one of three straight line drop-outs by the Bulldogs, but they defended each one and eventually forced an error by Uate, whose pass in-field for Darius Boyd was tidied up by back-rower Frank Pritchard.
‘‘We’re a team that probably over thinks things a little bit, and it’s happened a couple of times ... so it’s a learning process, but you just can’t give away 24 points against the benchmark,’’ Buderus said.
‘‘But 24 points is gettable in the modern game. I know it’s a lot of points, but we just had to keep thinking about the next set, holding them out for one set, and hopefully we’d get a bit of possession, and we did get some possession in that second half.
‘‘The game is momentum and pressure, and the pressure we applied in the second half was probably enough to score some tries, but we just couldn’t get over the line.’’
Knights coach Wayne Bennett lamented another poor start but was pleased with the way his players recovered and competed for the rest of the game.
‘‘They were very good but that’s happened to us a couple of times this year, unfortunately. We’ve obviously got a bit of an issue there,’’ he said.
‘‘We just haven’t got it right, and you can’t give that lead away in this competition against any team. We’ve done it three or four times now, I think.
‘‘We’ve got it back once and been beaten three other times, so it doesn’t work.
‘‘After 20 or 25 minutes in the first half, we started to get back into the game a little bit, we outscored them 10 points to two, and that’s the tragedy of the night.
‘‘If we could have contained a bit of that damage in the first 20 or 25 minutes, we could have made a real game of it. We tried to make a game of it, but we’d just given up too much.’’
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler believed his team’s early blitz ‘‘took the crowd right out of it’’.
‘‘The Novocastrians are a parochial lot and they love their football team, and they support their football team, so it was good to take them out of the equation a little bit,’’ Hasler said.
‘‘I thought our second half, we defended quite well. I think they had seven repeat sets, so that’s a lot of footy, so I thought we defended admirably.’’
? Canterbury extended Newcastle’s National Youth Cup losing streak to eight straight with a 38-26 victory in the curtain-raiser on Saturday. The Knights had a bye in the NSW Cup.