Newcastle coach Nathan Brown believes Canterbury are capable of challenging premiership pacesetters Cronulla and Melbourne and defending champions North Queensland for the NRL title.
The Bulldogs broke a 14-14 deadlock midway through the second half to beat Newcastle 28-14 at a rain-soaked Hunter Stadium on Saturday, registering their sixth win from their past seven games and condemning the Knights to a club-record 14th straight loss.
“The Dogs are that type of team where they win lots of games like that,” Brown said.
“Once September comes, getting in that top four is crucial for all the sides, but they have got a lot of big men … and more often than not sides with big people win.”
“They’ve got some personnel there to do very well and make a very good account for themselves.”
Trailing 14-2 at halftime, Knights midseason recruit Brendan Elliot scored two tries in three minutes to level the scores.
Former Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson sparked Newcastle’s resurgence with a 40-20 kick, two sideline conversions and a deft chip to set up Elliot’s second try.
But Canterbury skipper James Graham and fellow heavyweight Sam Kasiano combined to turn the game in the 54th minute and the Bulldogs remained in control until the final siren.
Kasiano charged down a Jarrod Mullen clearing kick, Graham chased and pressured Mullen into a handling error, and Moses Mbye was on the spot to scoop up the ball and score.
Mbye, who set up Canterbury’s first try to Michael Lichaa, kicked six from six for a 16-point haul.
“That wasn’t Mullo’s fault. It was what some people did in the lead-up to the kick,” Brown said.
“It was great kick pressure but we needed to be smarter the two plays before it. We got ourselves in a good position off the back of a good play the ball and the wrong people got the ball at the wrong time, and that’s what caused the kick to get charged down.”
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said his big men were rewarded for their effort and enthusiasm.
“It’s always good to walk away from here with two points. They’re always a tough ask here … Early in that second half we allowed that 40-20 and we lost momentum, and it just shows you how important that momentum is,” he said.
Newcastle lost 13 straight games in 2005 but their 2016 counterparts, who have won just once this year and are on track for a second straight wooden spoon, have displaced them as the worst-performing team in the club’s history.
Their only win was 119 days ago, when they pipped Wests Tigers 18-16, and they finish at home against the Panthers, Titans and Souths before a final-round trip to Kogarah to tackle the Dragons.
Brown said Newcastle were unlucky in narrow losses to Canberra and Melbourne in the past month and competed hard against the Bulldogs but were well beaten by Cronulla and Manly.
“If we get can keep some similar personnel on the field and name the same team and get some good commitment and effort, I’m sure we can pick up a win or two coming home,” Brown said.