Knights captain Kurt Gidley during Newcastle's heavy loss to the Broncos. Credit: Charles Knight. Copyright: NRL Photos.
You would have excused them if their minds had been elsewhere but Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley said it was execution and not application that brought about his side's heaviest defeat of a horror 2014 on Saturday night.
Far from perfect themselves, the Broncos took advantage of a mistake-riddled opening 40 minutes from the Knights to lead 14-0 at the break and when Korbin Sims crashed over to reduce the deficit to eight the visitors were back in the contest.
The loss of Kade Snowden and Jeremy Smith through the ASADA bans and key playmaker Jarrod Mullen with an injury on the morning of the game were the latest setbacks for Newcastle players to overcome but Gidley believed they had prepared well enough to register a third win in succession.
"It's been a tough year and [the loss of Snowden and Smith] was just another chapter in a tough year," Gidley said.
"We were disappointed for those guys, for their situation and they felt like they'd let us down with not being able to finish the year with us but when someone's ruled out whether it's injury or suspension or whatever it might be you've just got to move on as quickly as you can and try and get your head right for the game. I thought we had done that but it was our execution that let us down.
"Coming in at half-time, even though it was 14-0 I still had a bit of promise about the second half because we'd only completed 54 per cent so 14-0 wasn't a bad effort.
"I thought our online defence was pretty good and they'd had a heap of footy. We started the second half really good, especially that set where we got a penalty. We probably went 60 metres and then scored a try but it wasn't about effort tonight, it was about execution and we let ourselves down with that tonight, especially last plays compared to theirs."
In his third last game as Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett echoed his captain's sentiments, ruing an inability to build pressure on the Broncos defence. With Michael Dobson joining Tyrone Roberts in the halves due to the withdrawal of Jarrod Mullen on the morning of the game, the Knights seemed to lack sufficient direction all evening and failed to force a goal-line dropout all evening compared to the Broncos' three.
"Our first 60 minutes there was a lot to be liked about it because they were putting themselves under a lot of pressure, they weren't completing well but they were still hanging in and trying extremely hard against a team that's playing for everything," Bennett said.
"Our problem all night, to the point where we lost our way totally, was our inability to build pressure. We had five or six really good sets in the first half and we never looked like completing those up the other end. I think we ended up with about 50 per cent ball control in that first half and you can't play at this level without building pressure and maintaining it.
"Our kicking game was poor and it went on for about 60 minutes... I'm not sure what it was on the time clock but we put in a poor grubber kick, they picked it up and by the time they'd finished with the ball they'd scored at the other end and by that stage they were all heartbroken."
Victorious over the Roosters, Storm and Warriors in their past three games at home, Gidley said that all the players can do now is put in two whole-hearted performances at home against the Eels and Dragons to give the fans hope for next year.
"We've got two home games and we had a rough start at home for a fair chunk of the year," he said.
"I'd like to think we've done our fans proud at home over the past month or so and I'd like to see us send them away from our last couple of games proud of their team and looking forward to next year. It's been a tough one."