Bulldogs v Knights: Five Key Points
The Bulldogs pull off a miracle victory with two tries in the final five minutes to down a spirited Knights outfit in Josh Reynolds' final game in blue and white at Belmore Sports Ground.
Reynolds gets his fairy tale ending
Whether it was scripted or not, the Bulldogs were able to send Josh Reynolds off with a farewell he thoroughly deserved.
It looked like the Knights would spoil the party with five minutes to go, before his teammates rallied to ensure the inspirational pivot would depart the suburban ground a winner.
Reynolds could have got over the line twice earlier in the contest had he been passed the ball in support.
Emotions ran wild pre-game with an emotional Reynolds hugging his mum twice as he led the side out onto the field.
"It will be a tremendous memory for him and one that he will remember it for a long time to come," coach Des Hasler said post-game.
Why didn't Hodkinson kick it?
That was the question at the death when the Knights were awarded a penalty kick at goal with the full-time siren sounding.
For 75 minutes the kicking games from both Trent Hodkinson and Brock Lamb were far more superior to their opposition.
Brock Lamb came up with the decisive play that enabled Moses Mbye to race 70 metres and score the match-winner, so was surely in no frame of mind to take a kick.
Hodkinson, who had kicked three goals earlier – including two on the same side of the field, was worried about the distance according to Knights coach Nathan Brown.
"My message was if 'Hokko' thinks he's got the distance then take it.'Lamby' usually strikes the ball really well and obviously what happened before that probably played a part in how he struck it," he said.
"He's kicking at 90 per cent this year."
Bulldogs attack remains questionable
It has been well documented the Bulldogs attack has struggled in 2017 and despite five line breaks in the opening half, Des Hasler's side could only account for the one converted try against a Knights side that has leaked more points than any other in the Telstra Premiership.
Canterbury could have easily been up 24-0 in the opening half had they finished off some chances in attack.
The majority of the line breaks on the edges came through the second-phase play from big men Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Sam Kasiano – two players who benefited from starting with Origin pair David Klemmer and Josh Jackson missing from the line-up.
Newcastle's solidarity in defence was finally cracked when it mattered, but should the Bulldogs want to make a final play at a top eight finish, something will need to change and giving Faitala-Mariner and Kasiano more minutes could be it.
Senior players lift Knights
Newcastle will take plenty of positives out of a heart-breaking defeat and one will be the influence experienced campaigners Trent Hodkinson and Jamie Buhrer had on the team, particularly in the second half.
Hodkinson's control with his short kicking game is one that the Novocastrians have been screaming out for, while Buhrer controlled the middle of the ruck and got the visitors on the front foot.
With mid-season recruit Shaun Kenny-Dowall close to a club debut in coming weeks, the more experienced men in a side full of youth is only going to benefit the Knights moving forward, and ultimately to overcome agonising defeats.
"I can see the making of a really good side as they keep developing good experienced players to the roster," Brown said.
"We found a new way to lose today and I get as sad and disappointed as anyone, it's just where we are at the minute unfortunately."
Crazy scenes at Belmore
Call us old school, but there is nothing better than playing at a suburban ground.
Chaos reigned at full-time when ground staff accidently let off a siren that enabled fans onto the ground minutes after the end of the contest – however the only problem being players were still on the paddock with media and television crews.
The facilities may not be able to cater a Telstra Premiership fixture on a fortnightly basis, however the afternoon sun at Belmore made for a picaresque occasion and the strong crowd of 13,103 ensured the atmosphere was electric.
It truly was a throwback to the old days.
"It was a bit unexpected from the players' point of view, we didn't expect the fans to come on the field but they were just happy we got the win," Bulldogs skipper Aiden Tolman said.
"It's something special and you don't get to experience that in rugby league. It's the first time I have in over 200 games.
"They've been doing it tough of late with one win so they enjoyed that as much as we did."