Brilliant Bulldogs blow ‘ineffective’ Knights off the park – with Ponga’s injury turning pressure up on O’Brien


Canterbury are continuing to rediscover their bite under Cameron Ciraldo to boost their hopes of a playoff return but the Knights are hurtling towards the bottom of the ladder with Kalyn Ponga again injured.

The Bulldogs ran rampant at Accor Stadium on Sunday to blow Newcastle away 36-12 and the heat is increasing on coach Adam O’Brien after his side slumped to their fifth win from seven starts and they now face the prospect of Ponga being sidelined with a foot injury.

He entered the match hampered by a hip injury and looked well below his best before exiting the contest in the 51st minute with a foot problem, finishing the match looking on from the sidelines in a moonboot.

Ponga was left on the field the previous week against the Roosters when he was barely able to move due to his hip problem and this time around he was not much better, making just seven runs for a paltry 52 metres before he was replaced.

The Dogs started the season with a couple of heavy defeats but have upset the Roosters and were unlucky to lose to Melbourne by two recently but there was never a doubt that they would win this match after dominating from start to finish.

Bulldogs winger Josh Addo-Carr reminded NSW selectors of his attacking strikepower out wide and he could have a couple of teammates in Origin camp this year with Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton also having a field day against the tackle-shy Knights.

Chris Patolo went off early with MCL injury and bench prop Sam Hughes was the unlikely first try-scorer when he backed his way through a flimsy defensive line from close range.

The initial fears are that Patolo has torn the ligament and is facing several months on the sidelines.

Daniel Saifiti is tackled. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Canterbury doubled their lead midway through the first half when Burton and Connor Tracey combined to put Jacob Kiraz over in the corner in what looked like a glorified training drill against the visiting team’s disjointed defensive line.

Newcastle registered the only highlight amid a first half of lowlights on the half-hour mark when Tyson Gamble, recalled at five-eighth after Jack Cogger was dropped to the NSW Cup, found Dylan Lucas running hard on the right edge to cut the gap to six.

But it was 18-6 before the half-time break when it was Bulldogs centre Bronson Xerri’s turn to show up the Newcastle goal-line defence by powering over from a simple one-pass play from Reed Mahoney at dummy-half.

It was the former Sharks prodigy’s first try since the 2019 finals series after he spent four years out of the sport due to his performance-enhancing drugs ban.

The Bulldogs have speed to burn and look DANGEROUS! ????

???? Watch #NRLBulldogsKnights on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) April 21, 2024

Newcastle’s first half was diabolical. “They’re ineffective, lacking intensity, lacking commitment,” former premiership-winning half Cooper Cronk said on Fox League.

Ponga gifted Bailey Hayward his first try in the NRL nine minutes into the second half when he tried to shepherd a Mahoney grubber over the dead-ball line but the Canterbury rookie pounced in the nick of time.

The Newcastle captain was replaced a couple of minutes later in a virtual waving of the white flag from O’Brien with his side down 24-6.

Any flickering hope of a Knights comeback was extinguished in the 60th minute when Tracey continued his impressive switch to fullback by creating an overlap out wide and hot potato-ing the ball for a flying Foxx in Josh Addo-Carr to evade the cover defence at the corner post.

Fox extends the Bulldogs lead! ????

???? Watch #NRLBulldogsKnights on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) April 21, 2024

Crichton created and completed a slick backline movement in the closing stages, getting the better of NSW selection rival Bradman Best to cap off Canterbury’s comprehensive victory over a team that thumped them 66-0 in the corresponding match last year.

On that occasion the Bulldogs players were booed off the field but there were nothing but cheers this time around after the new-look line-up’s most complete performance of the season.

Mahoney got a huge ovation a few minutes from full-time after he and Knights forward Jack Hetherington were sin-binned in the dying stages for a scuffle, the only time Newcastle showed any fight for the afternoon.

Best notched in the final minute but it was nothing more than a consolation try for the badly beaten visitors.

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