THE Newcastle Knights will need a late-season miracle to avoid a third successive wooden spoon after a demoralising 33-12 loss to Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
The defeat left Newcastle last on the ladder, two points behind the Tigers.
But the Tigers have won four games to Newcastle’s two and have a bye in hand.
Newcastle will need to win at least two of their nine remaining games or they will again finish last, as they did in 2015 and 2016.
Apart from the Tigers, every other team in the NRL has at least three more wins than the Knights.
Only four other clubs in rugby league history have collected a hat-trick of spoons, the most recent being now-defunct Gold Coast Seagulls in 1991-93.
Despite the absence of NSW Origin fullback James Tedesco, the Tigers consistently ripped holes in Newcastle's defence to lead 20-0 at half-time.
The visitors opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a try by Malakai Watene-Zalezniak in the ninth minute.
Further tries from hooker Jacob Liddle and stand-in custodian Kevin Naiqama, complemented by four goals from five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea, left Newcastle facing a demoralising deficit.
The scoreline would have been even larger had the Tigers been more clinical instead of wasting a couple of prime scoring opportunities.
Newcastle appeared to have narrowed the gap just before half-time when centre Peter Mata’utia crossed, but they were called back because a pass from his brother, Sione, was ruled forward.
A 55th-minute try by winger David Noafoaluma, after the Tigers again exposed Newcastle’s edge defence, left the visitors – who had lost their previous seven games – in an apparently unassailable position.
Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon gave the 19,531-strong crowd reason to cheer in the 62nd minute when he barged over from dummy-half for his second try in as many games.
When Dane Gagai burst clear four minutes later and chipped ahead for Joe Wardle to score, Newcastle were back within striking distance at 24-12.
But the Knights were unable to control possession and Tigers halfback Luke Brooks iced the result with a 77th-minute field goal
A Lolohea penalty goal a minute later, and then a Books try in the dying seconds, rounded out the scoring.