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Darren Walton

Knights ease pressure on coach with huge win over Dogs

Bradman Best scored a hat-trick of tries as Newcastle ran riot in a 66-0 NRL win over Canterbury. (Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

Newcastle have relieved some of the pressure on beleaguered coach Adam O'Brien with a crushing, record-setting 66-0 NRL romp over hapless Canterbury.

Disgusted Bulldogs fans booed their own team as the Knights piled on 11 unanswered tries to snap a three-game losing streak and, hopefully for O'Brien's sake, shift the coaching spotlight to veteran Wests Tigers mentor Tim Sheens.

O'Brien conceded last week he was most likely the next coach in line to lose his job if he couldn't dig the Knights out of their mid-season hole.

His charges responded to put the Bulldogs to the sword at Accor Stadium and leave Sheens the new front-runner to follow sacked Gold Coast boss Justin Holbrook to the coaching scrap heap.

"I'm getting plenty of feedback that people have seen me smile in the box for once, and I don't waste smiles," O'Brien said.

"But, yeah, it's been tough."

The Tigers' 74-0 capitulation to North Queensland on Saturday sparked calls for 72-year-old Sheens to step aside and allow club legend Benji Marshall to take over immediately rather than in 2025 as planned.

While the Tigers slumped to the bottom of the ladder after the largest hiding in 88 years of premiership rugby league, Newcastle's decisive victory eclipsed the Knights' previous best 60-0 rout of South Sydney in 1999 and revived the 14th-placed side's' slim hopes of a late charge to the finals.

They are guaranteed another two competition points next week for the bye, then host the Tigers in round 21 in a golden opportunity to continue climbing the ladder in the coming fortnight.

If Cameron Ciraldo wasn't so highly regarded by Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould, he'd also be in the firing line after a dismal month for the Belmore boys.

After jeering Ciraldo's side when they trudged to the sheds trailing 32-0 at halftime, droves of spectators filed out soon after the break when it was apparent there was no way back for the Bulldogs, who have now leaked 193 points in their past four defeats.

"I felt for him (Ciraldo) actually but, at the end of the day, they'll grow from it as well. You've got to go through the hard yards but we're in a ruthless business," O'Brien said.

Welcoming the heat being on others this week, O'Brien was delighted after Kayln Ponga, Bradman Best and Jackson Hastings ignited Newcastle's attack with inspired running games.

Ponga had a hand in six of Newcastle's tries and slotted 11 conversions from 11 for a 22-point haul. Best bagged a hat-trick, while Hastings and hooker Phoenix Crossland each a double.

Despite his lively display, Ponga ruled out making a State of Origin recall for Queensland.

The fullback said he'd already told Maroons coach Billy Slater he planned to continue sitting out the series - having missed its start after a series of head knocks - despite Reece Walsh being suspended for game three in Sydney on July 12.

"I thanked him for not picking me for game one and for allowing me to focus on just getting back to footy and what's important," Ponga said.

"It's where I am mentally and I still want to stick to that and I want to focus on the Knights. Our season's definitely not done.

"So I won't be playing Origin III."

Ironically, Canterbury utility Matt Burton appears the player most likely to step into the NSW centres despite the Dogs' latest capitulation.

But Blues coach Brad Fittler may be having second thoughts, while also be considering discarding Burton's teammates Josh Addo-Carr and Tevita Pangai Junior for Origin III.

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