A late Aiden Tolman try has spoiled Newcastle’s stirring effort to upset Canterbury in front of recovering second rower Alex McKinnon, with the Knights going down 16-12.
McKinnon, who suffered a broken neck playing for the Knights on March 23, made an unannounced visit to ANZ Stadium for the round eight NRL match and Newcastle looked likely to clinch their third win of the season for him for much of a see-sawing clash.
That dream was crushed when video referees Bernard Sutton and Andrew Dunemann ruled there had been no Bulldogs knock-on when prop Tolman came up with a kick to dive over seven minutes from fulltime in front of 15,286 fans on Saturday night.
A corner-post camera seemed to provide the compelling evidence that the kick, which the Knights had failed to clean up in the southeastern corner, had not been propelled forward by the Dogs.
Des Hasler’s competition leaders hung on for a fifth consecutive victory.
News that McKinnon was attending the game first leaked out around an hour before kick-off when Fox Sports showed him in the Knights dressingrooms, gesticulating with both arms as he spoke to trainer Danny Buderus.
He watched from a coach’s box as a reversed refereeing call on a knock-on allowed Canterbury to score their first try.
Originally, the Knights were to feed a scrum close to their own line, but the video referees advised the on-field officials that decision had been wrong.
After going close on the previous tackle, Bulldog Josh Reynolds spectacularly off-loaded a Trent Hodkinson bomb in mid-air, with Josh Jackson putting over winger Mitch Browne in the corner.
Rival flanker James McManus provided the response, reaching over his head to touch down in the 23rd minute, but Canterbury led 10-4 at halftime when Tony Williams thundered through the Knights defence before putting Sam Kasiano over.
A sublime flick pass from halfback Tyrone Roberts put replacement Robbie Rochow over for the the second Novocastrian try seven minutes after the resumption of play, with the conversion tying the contest at 10-10.
A 53rd minute penalty then allowed Newcastle to hit the front thanks to Roberts’ boot. It’s a lead the visitors clung to for 16 minutes, until Tolman’s try.
A collection for McKinnon in the crowd raised more than $7000.