Knights v Bulldogs: Five Key Points
Newcastle lost zero admirers as the semi finals came early for the Bulldogs in their hard-fought 20-18 victory on the Knights' traditional Old Boys Day.
Here are the five key points to come out of the game that had a little bit of everything.
Finals footy comes early for Bulldogs
The Bulldogs appeared somewhat thankful for the effort Newcastle showed, in a game that had plenty of finals-like feeling in it from the get-go.
"Without getting past [next week's opponents] the Warriors, looking forward, they're the types of games that we're going to be in," Bulldogs skipper James Graham said.
"I could only presume come September, it's going to be close, and we're going to have to hang on to defend our line. We're going to have to turn up on some back-to-back sets and turn up on some big plays. It gave us some real practice.
"I think the important thing for us was getting the win. We had to overcome [Newcastle's intent]. I'm really proud of the effort from the boys."
Hasler not thrilled with referees
Moments after storming up the tunnel to hand down some choice words to one of the match officials post-game, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler expressed his disappointment of how referees Adam Devcich and Chris James interpreted the offside rule during the contest.
"I didn't know the game had gone back to five metres," Hasler said post-game.
"You had a couple of times there where he could've done something about [the offside rule]. He was just out of his depth, the poor fella. But it was a great game of footy – it had a real semi-final feel about it."
Buderus chuffed by Knights' efforts
Unlike his coaching counterpart, interim Knights coach Danny Buderus was chuffed after the game due to his side's improved performance.
With getting an improved effort from his troops his top priority since taking over the coaching reins five weeks ago, Buderus appeared happy despite the slender two-point loss.
"The belief was there from the first minute to the 80th. They nearly stole it. They hung in and they were getting on top. There were moments of the game where they were on top," Buderus said.
"And then, from one thing to another, momentum really changed. It was disappointing at times, when you look back through the game at different things that went down, but the fight was there. The belief was there. And that's what I was after."
Kurt Gidley leaves Hunter Stadium a hero
After 250 NRL games and 80 first grade tries, departing skipper Kurt Gidley can leave Newcastle knowing he has done his city proud.
Leading from the front against the Bulldogs, Gidley scored once, set up another try and came up with the Knights' only line break in a memorable departure for the second-most capped Newcastle player ever.
Out with the fans for almost two hours after the game, it was obvious the Newcastle faithful appreciated Gidley as much as he did them.
"That style that we've got going on there for Kurt suits him, taking on the line and taking them on," Buderus said.
"It was a terrific night for him, to get across the line. But that little dream that everyone thinks about and wishes sometimes, it was so close for him.
"A lot's been said about Kurt. I said it to him in the dressing room before – you'd be happy if your kids grew up like Kurt, that's for sure."
Bulldogs buck Knights' Old Boys Day trend
Only the eighth team to win on Newcastle's final home game of the season, the Bulldogs bucked a trend that began all the way back in the final round of 1988 when the Knights won 38-6 against North Sydney.
With the Knights losing their final home game of the year for just the fourth time since 2000, the Bulldogs could appreciate the enormity of their achievement.
"I think in coming up here and playing at the best of times, and playing on Old Boys Day and two of their favourite sons are retiring or heading off overseas – congratulations to both those Newcastle players too – it was always going to be a tough game," Hasler said.
"It was pretty ferocious. So I'm very proud of our boys. I don't think many teams would have got the points here. It was a tough game, pretty physical. We knew there was going to be an onslaught and it was a really brave effort, I thought."
This article first appeared on NRL.com