Newcastle’s NRL losing streak has been extended to 18, courtesy of a controversial 28-26 defeat to St George Illawarra.
A dubious penalty against retiring Knights back-rower Jeremy Smith in the play-the-ball gave Gareth Widdop the chance to kick an 80th-minute goal at Kogarah Oval on Saturday afternoon in the final round of the regular season.
Smith was penalised by referee Henry Perenara for kneeing Kurt Mann in the tackle, but it appeared a tough call.
Widdop kicked the 39m penalty goal to give the Dragons a winning end to a disappointing season in what could be Benji Marshall’s final first-grade game.
After a shocking 2016, Newcastle will start next season seeking to end the worst losing streak in the NRL.
It is the first time since Gold Coast in 1993 that a team has won just one game in a season.
It was an entertaining match at Kogarah, punctuated by silly errors from both sides.
Marshall led the way for the Dragons and Trent Hodkinson steered Newcastle well around the park. But, when the Knights had a field-goal chance late, before Widdop’s penalty, the ball wrongly went to Jarrod Mullen.
Newcastle started the game strongly to lead 10-0 after 10 minutes on the back of tries to Nathan Ross and Jacob Saifiti.
But the Dragons came storming back scoring four tries in 15 minutes to grab a generous lead.
Joel Thompson bagged tries in the 25th and 30th minutes. Jason Nightingale helped himself to his first in the 17th minute and Jake Marketo streaked away in the 32nd to give the home side a 22-10 halftime lead.
Newcastle started the second half as they did the first. Dane Gagai crossed out wide two minutes after the resumption and Peter Mata’utia did likewise five minutes later to peg the gap to two points.
Nightingale crossed for his second in the 58th minute before Mitchell Barnett’s try and Trent Hodkinson’s conversion in the 73rd minute tied up the scores at 26-26 before 8726 fans.
Neither team used the captain’s challenge, brought in for this game as a trial, with both teams out of top-eight contention.