NEWCASTLE'S season went from bad to worse in dramatic fashion on Saturday night when they were beaten 26-18 by Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium - their fourth successive defeat.
Adding to their woes, Knights back-rower Aidan Guerra was taken from the field late in the game with a suspected broken ankle.
After consecutive losses to Penrith, Canberra, St George Illawarra and now Manly, the Knights face a week of soul-searching before they tackle the revitalised Gold Coast Titans at CBus Super Stadium next Sunday.
Manly's third straight victory consolidated their position in the top eight.
In front of a 21,779-strong crowd, the Sea Eagles grabbed the ascendancy from the outset and raced to an 18-0 lead after just 20 minutes.
The opening try was scored in the fourth minute when Sea Eagles five-eighth Kane Elgey threw a cut-out pass for winger Jorge Taufua to dive over in the corner.
Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans, appearing in his 200th NRL game, converted from the sideline.
Five minutes later, hooker Apisai Koroisau darted out of dummy-half, linked with Taufua, and winger Reuben Garrick backed up to score.
The visitors increased their advantage when lock Jake Trbojevic grubber-kicked and back-rower Joel Thompson grounded the ball in-goal.
Manly, who were without star fullback Tom Trbojevic because of a hamstring injury, butchered a couple of other try-scoring opportunities before the break.
The Knights finally responded in the 37th minute when fullback Kalyn Ponga stabbed a kick behind defenders and winger Edrick Lee regathered, beating Garrick's tackle to plant the ball over the line.
Ponga, who had earlier spent time off the field for a head-injury assessment after a Curtis Sironen high shot, converted to leave his team facing an 18-6 deficit at the interval.
Sironen was placed on report for his tackle and will be doing well to avoid suspension.
Eleven minutes after the resumption, Newcastle were back in business when Guerra scored from dummy-half to make it 18-12.
A penalty in front of the posts in the 56th minute allowed Cherry-Evans to restore an eight-point buffer.
The Knights appeared to have hit back through Lachlan Fitzgibbon in the 60th minute, only for the video referee to rule Lee had put his foot on the sideline in the lead-up play.
Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake then scored probably the softest try of his career in the 63rd minute, leaving the Knights facing a 26-12 deficit.
Newcastle hit back four minutes later when prop James Gavet turned ball-player to send back-rower Mitch Barnett over untouched.
The match took a dramatic turn from the ensuing kick-off, when Fonua-Blake was sin-binned for a high shot that forced Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce from the field for a concussion assessment.
Pearce was unable to return to the field.