With injured team-mate Alex McKinnon watching on from the coach's box, the Newcastle Knights showcased enormous courage in a hard fought 16-12 loss against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
In a performance that fittingly typified the resilience of McKinnon, the Knights fought hard in a match they led for most of the second half.
Newcastle held a slender 12-10 advantage with 23 minutes remaining, but it was the Bulldogs who scored late via prop Aiden Tolman to get the win and reclaim the beyondblue Cup.
While the Knights didn't get the two competition points, they deserve huge praise for their effort and never-say-die attitude.
Winger James McManus was outstanding in attack and defence, while Robbie Rochow, Korbin Sims and Jarrod Mullen all impressed.
The Knights have the bye next weekend and will look to hit back at home against the Penrith Panthers in Round 10.
Newcastle made a number of positional changes before kick-off.
David Fa’alogo replaced Jeremy Smith (knee) in the 17 and started on the bench alongside Chris Houston.
Adam Cuthbertson and Robbie Rochow were moved into the starting side.
It was a fast-paced opening to the game with both teams looking to spread the ball.
Canterbury had the first chance after 5 minutes, but winger Moses Mybe was held up over the line.
The Bulldogs retained possession though and crossed in the next play following a brilliant team try to winger Mitch Brown.
Brown scored in the eastern corner following a pinpoint Trent Hodkinson kick that was tapped back by Josh Reynolds, before the ball was passed wide for the Dogs to score.
Hodkinson missed the conversion from the sideline, but it was the home side with an early 4-0 lead.
As strong as the Bulldogs looked, Newcastle remained in the contest on the back of strong charges from Kade Snowden and Darius Boyd.
This persistence paid off for the Knights after 22 minutes when winger James McManus finished off a brilliant backline move to score in the corner.
Forwards Adam Cuthbertson and Robbie Rochow were heavily involved in the lead-up with perfectly timed passes for McManus to dive over.
Roberts missed the kick from the sideline, but the scores were locked at 4-all with 16 minutes left in the first half.
Newcastle was playing with plenty of enthusiasm in attack and defence and the Bulldogs were finding it difficult to contain.
While the Knights dominated possession for the much of the first half, it was the Bulldogs who went to halftime leading following a Sam Kasiano try.
Hodkinson converted from in front to give the home side a slender 10-4 advantage at the break.
Newcastle had the worst possible start to the second half when Tyrone Roberts' kick-off went out on the full.
The Bulldogs looked to have scored in the following set, but were denied following a solid up-and-in tackle from McManus.
Canterbury received another chance minutes later after a Dane Gagai mistake, however winger Corey Thompson couldn't dive on a Hodkinson kick.
The Knights' toughness in defence paid dividends in the 46th minute when second-rower Robbie Rochow scored off a freakish flick pass from halfback Tyrone Roberts.
The Grafton-born No.7 converted from adjacent to the uprights to lock the scores at 10-all with 31 minutes remaining.
Newcastle was full of running and took the lead 12-10 in the 53rd minute following a Roberts penalty goal.
Canterbury had a number of chances to score, but the Knights' defence held strong on their own line.
Bulldogs five-eighth Reynolds looked destined to get a 40/20, but McManus amazingly denied the kick going over the sideline.
The home side didn't convert on that occasion, but they did just minutes later via prop Aiden Tolman.
Hodkinson added the extras from in front to give the Dogs a 16-12 lead with nine minutes remaining. It would be an advantage the Dogs would take to the full-time siren.
Newcastle Knights 12 (T: McManus, Rochow, G: Roberts 1/2, P: Roberts 1/1)
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (T: Brown, Kasiano, Tolman, G: Hodkinson 2/3)