Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien can breathe a sigh of relief after a stellar performance from Kalyn Ponga against the Bulldogs on Sunday. The win, by a crushing 66-0 margin, should put an end to speculations regarding O’Brien’s job security at the club. The Knights took full advantage of Canterbury’s weak right edge and poor goal-line defense, leaving even the most loyal Bulldogs fans heading for the exits with 25 minutes remaining on the clock. The Bulldogs‘ defeat came just a day after the Tigers suffered a humiliating 74-0 loss, further highlighting their struggles.
The game started with promise for the Bulldogs, with the return of experienced players Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr, and coming off a bye. The opening 10 minutes saw the Bulldogs putting up a fight, but they lacked the necessary determination and resilience. Jackson Hastings‘ try in the 12th minute marked the beginning of the Knights‘ dominance, as they continued to extend their lead.
The Bulldogs‘ rookie Khaled Rajab found it difficult to withstand the relentless attacks from the Knights, prompting coach Cameron Ciraldo to substitute him in the final minutes of the first half. By halftime, the Bulldogs had conceded five tries and were trailing by 30 points.
Any hopes of a revival for the Bulldogs were dashed as the Knights wasted no time in adding to their tally just two minutes into the second half. Bradman Best claimed his first career hat-trick, while young hooker Phoenix Crossland made his mark with a double, two line breaks, and a try assist. Ponga, who took over kicking duties, contributed 22 points of his own through flawless conversions, as well as three try assists, three line break assists, and two line breaks.
Ciraldo had stressed the importance of playing as a cohesive unit during the week leading up to the match, but the Bulldogs failed to demonstrate any cohesion on the field. Even their most experienced players seemed uncertain, and despite the efforts of skipper Reed Mahoney, the Bulldogs were unable to put any points on the board.
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage some pride, the Bulldogs‘ Jacob Kiraz made a desperate dash for the corner with just 12 seconds remaining, but his foot grazed the touchline, rendering the effort in vain. Ultimately, the Bulldogs suffered their second-largest defeat in their 88-year history, adding to their woes.
The Knights‘ dominant display, led by Ponga, has undoubtedly eased the pressure on coach O’Brien, who can now focus on building on this commanding victory. As for the Bulldogs, it is clear that significant improvements need to be made if they are to turn their season around and avoid further embarrassments on the field.