Newcastle lost fullback Kalyn Ponga and hooker Slade Griffin to serious injuries and the Knights slim finals hopes were all but extinguished in a costly 36-16 loss to the lowly Bulldogs at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Ponga lasted just 14 minutes and must be in serious doubt for Origin III in a major blow for the Maroons after limping from the field with a possible hamstring tear.
Griffin was carried from the field on the medi-cab just before half time clutching at his left knee after getting twisted awkwardly in a tackle. During his career, he has returned from three knee reconstructions with early fears he may now need a fourth.
The injuries were a devastating sub-plot to a disastrous night for the home side with the Bulldogs scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half for a thumping victory.
Prop David Klemmer was outstanding for the Bulldogs, who rebounded wonderfully from a tough week that was dominated by talk of their dire salary cap position and the loss of Aaron Woods to the Sharks. It was just their fourth win of the season.
It was Newcastle's sixth straight loss to the Bulldogs with their second-half defence leaving a lot to be desired.
The Knights shrugged off the injuries to Ponga and Griffin in the opening 40 to lead 16-12 at the break.
With Ponga off after 14 minutes, Knights coach Nathan Brown switched Conner Watson to fullback with Jamie Buhrer coming off the bench to slot in at five-eighth.
The Knights had the first real scoring opportunity after 16 minutes when a Jack Cogger cross-kick was fielded close to the Dogs line by winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
He off-loaded to Sione Mata'utia but the Knights centre was bundled into touch just shot of the line by some desperate Bulldogs cover.
But in a sign of just how quickly fortunes can turn, the Bulldogs recovered from the close call and came up with a try themselves to open the scoring just a minute later.
Spreading it to the right, winger Reimis Smith charged up field before delivering a sublime no-look pass on the outside for his centre Kerrod Holland to cross with Rhyse Martin adding the extras for a 6-0 lead.
The Knights leveled midway through the half when Watson crossed out wide after a Cogger grubber kick rebounded to the Knights and the ball was kept alive.
But with Klemmer leading the way for his side up the middle, the Bulldogs again went ahead with Holland getting his second try following a clever dummy half play from hooker Michael Lichaa and some poor on-line defence from the Knights.
Griffin suffered his knee injury during the play that led to prop Herman Ese'ese reaching out to plant the ball under the posts in a bitter-sweet moment for the home side after 33 minutes.
After the hooker was taken from the field on a medi-cab, Ken Sio added a second conversion and it was all tied up again.
It was Watson who gave the home side the lead for just the first time in the match three minutes from halftime.
Attacking down the left, Watson took the ball from first receiver, feigned to pass before accelerating through the defence to storm over for the 16-12 advantage.
Newcastle's lead lasted just four minutes in the second half with a Bulldogs' blitz producing two tries in the space of three minutes for a 24-16 lead.
Smith went over in the corner after the Knights left edge defence was stretched for a 18-16 lead before Smith again was involved, this time breaking free before producing a great in-field kick for halfback Jeremy Marshall-King to plant the ball over the line.
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