THE Newcastle Knights' top-four hopes encountered an unexpected setback when they were upset 20-14 by last-placed Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
A win may have left the Knights in fourth position by the end of round 17. Now if results go against them, they could be clinging to a top-eight spot. After last week's loss to the Warriors, and with their next game against premiers Sydney Roosters (away), the pressure is rapidly mounting on the Knights in the race for the finals.
Newcastle led 6-0 at half-time but the Bulldogs fought back to 8-all midway through the second half.
The game turned when Knights prop James Gavet was sin-binned in the 62nd minute for a late tackle on rival forward Chris Smith. Canterbury scored two tries while Newcastle were reduced to 12 men, to lead 20-8.
But then Bulldogs prop Dylan Napa fumbled in front of his posts and veteran Newcastle winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored his second try of the night, to make it a six-point ball game with seven minutes to play.
The Knights started strongly but soon encountered spirited opposition.
Newcastle's four representatives from Origin III - Mitchell Pearce, Daniel Saifiti, Tim Glasby and David Klemmer - all backed up, although Klemmer reverted to the bench.
Pearce conjured up the only try of the first half in the sixth minute with a 20-metre torpedo pass that created an overlap for Kenny-Dowall.
The Knights opted against kicking for penalty goals in the first half, preferring to tap the ball and run.
But eight minutes after the interval, five-eighth Mason Lino added a two-pointer to extend their lead to 8-0.
Ten minutes later, Bulldogs centre Marcelo Montoya swooped on a Lino grubber kick and centre Will Hopoate scored on the next play. Winger Nick Meaney converted to make it a two-point ball game.
Then came the controversial hit from Gavet, which allowed Meaney to equalise with a penalty goal. Tries by back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera and winger Reimis Smith followed in quick succession while the Knights were a man short.