Manly’s finals hopes take a hit after narrow loss to Newcastle

Manly’s NRL season is hanging by a thread following a 26-24 defeat to the Knights in Newcastle that leaves the Sea Eagles four points outside the top eight.

Enari Tuala scored two tries for the Knights and Kalyn Ponga again starred in the win, as the hosts moved one step closer to their first finals series since 2013.

The only issue for the Knights was another knee injury for Daniel Saifiti, who left the field in the first half and did not return in his comeback match from a similar injury.

The story could not be any more dire for the Sea Eagles.

Seventh on the ladder when Tom Trbojevic was injured in round six, they have won just two of their past eight matches to be placed ninth, two wins shy of the top half of the competition.

With a poor for-and-against record, Des Hasler’s team will likely need to win at least five of their last six matches to make the finals.

The Sea Eagles were dogged on Sunday without starting props Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua Blake.

Trbojevic’s replacement at fullback, Brendan Elliot, suffered a knee injury and played just 20 minutes, while five-eighth Cade Cust was hampered by knee and ankle injuries.

Manly led 12-0 early but endured a nightmare 20 minutes before half-time after Elliot’s injury.

After Ponga and Mitchell Pearce combined for the Knights’ first try, Kurt Mann grabbed a four-pointer to level the scores, before Tuala crossed to give the hosts a 16-12 advantage at half-time.

When Hymel Hunt made it 20-12 just after the break, the Knights looked in control.

But Jack Gosiewki scored for Manly from a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber, before Lachlan Croker was the beneficiary of Taniela Paseka and Sean Keppie’s power in the middle.

But the Knights would not relent.

Tualia landed the knockout blow when he beat Manly’s defence from 20 metres out with eight minutes to play.

The victory lifted the Knights to sixth place on the ladder, just one point off the top four.