Ponga's absence didn't cost us: Knights

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Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien insists the absence of captain Kalyn Ponga was not to blame for a disappointing 24-10 NRL loss to a resurgent Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The last time the two sides met, it was the Bulldogs who slumped to a defeat that ultimately cost coach Trent Barrett his job.

But in the two months since, Barrett's replacement Mick Potter has taught the Bulldogs an attacking brand of football that proved the difference in the rematch, Jacob Kiraz leading the way with three tries.

Newcastle are still yet to confirm when Ponga will return from the head knock he suffered last week but if Sunday is anything to go by, they will struggle to produce points without him, even against fellow bottom-eight sides.

The Knights have scored only 34 points in the past three weeks, fewer than any other team.

But O'Brien said Newcastle had bigger problems to worry about, issues that would not have been remedied had their fullback played against Canterbury.

"He's a very good player for us in attack but at the end of the day, that hasn't been our issue this year," he said.

"It's our defence, our resilience and our character that I'm most concerned about.

"Your fullback defensively obviously sets your line but there were about 12 or 14 offloads for the first half. Kalyn can't help us with that."

With Ponga sidelined, O'Brien hoped replacing halfback Adam Clune with Jake Clifford might reignite the side's attack but the move did not have the desired effect.

Clifford's first kick was too shallow and invited the Bulldogs into Newcastle territory, where they camped for most of the first half.

The Knights were two tries down by the time they had a tackle in the Bulldogs' 20-metre zone and in that set Clifford dropped the ball cold.

Newcastle replaced winger Edrick Lee (foot injury) with fringe first-grader Simi Sasagi, leaving the Bulldogs to attack on the right, where Kiraz had a try-scoring double inside 10 minutes.

He first caught a Braidon Burns flick-pass to score down the short-side and then pounced on a cross-field kick from Josh Addo-Carr for the Bulldogs' second.

Down 14 points at the break, the Knights needed renewed defensive intensity in the second half but within six minutes of the restart, Kiraz had his third try.

The Knights managed to work themselves into better field position as the half went on but Clifford and five-eighth Anthony Milford came up short of answers.

Newcastle enjoyed 37 tackles in the Bulldogs' 20m during the second half but had only six points to show for it, slumping to a fourth straight defeat.

Potter said the Knights pushed his side in the second half.

"It was a bit stressful today," he said.

"I was really happy we showed a fair bit of resilience to hold them out."

O'Brien said it would "take some time" for the Knights to recapture the form that led them to the finals in his first two seasons in charge.

"Hopefully we look back on this season as a season that helped us grow. We need to stick tight and work our way out of it," he said.

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