Knights v Warriors: Five key points
After Newcastle's very scrappy win in their opening clash of the NRL Telstra Premiership against the Warriors, here are five key points to take from the contest.
Newcastle has a lot of room for improvement
Knights coach Rick Stone summed it up best by saying that will won out over skill for his team, and the hosts were very lucky their opponents dropped the ball in the final quarter of the game.
Newcastle conceded more penalties and missed more tackles throughout the contest, and with a poor kicking game and an abundance of missed opportunities it is clear they will have plenty of work to do if they are to beat North Queensland next weekend.
"We were definitely untidy in the middle there at times and I thought our kicking game was disappointing – it allowed the Warriors an easy passage out of their own territory a fair bit," Stone said after the game.
"Overall I thought our kicking game wasn't good all day but there was plenty of fight and plenty of boys willing to jump the fence and get involved when they needed to and hung on."
New Warriors look the goods
Despite crumbling in the final 15 minutes after Newcastle lost David Fa'alogo to the sin bin, the Warriors had plenty of positives from their first encounter of 2015 with their six new faces impressing.
NSW and Australian Test star Ryan Hoffman and fellow back-rower Bodene Thompson were inspirational for the men across the ditch while NRL debutants Albert Vete, Solomone Kata and Sam Lisone all impressed – especially Vete who gave opposition prop Kade Snowden hell all afternoon.
Throw in the performance of stand-in fullback Tuimoala Lolohea in his fourth NRL game and you can't help but think the Warriors' depth is in a good place.
"I thought our young kids really stood up today," Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.
"Obviously on top of Vete and Lisone, there was Tui who was outstanding. For a pressure position he was terrific and came up with some big plays and unfortunately wasn't rewarded for that.
"Ryan too was great and was often back on play one of a set having that early carry, and really along with our skipper [Simon Mannering] and Bodene Thompson, they all played 80 minutes and they were really put under pressure because we couldn't give any of them a spell. I thought overall they were all terrific."
Newcastle's backline selection headache remains
Kurt Gidley's slight hamstring complaint is set to prolong Newcastle coach Rick Stone's selection dilemmas into the second week of the competition. After keeping Sione Mata'utia on his extended bench in the lead up to the Warriors game, Gidley's injury allowed Mata'utia to give the Australian representative a chance to shine at fullback.
But with the Newcastle captain set to be named next weekend, Mata'utia's place in the team is once again in doubt with quartet James McManus, Akuila Uate, Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua each doing enough to hold their places in the side.
Stone also maintains that he'd rather have two specialist hookers in his 17 – meaning Tyler Randell has somewhat of an inside running on the bench utility spot.
"Gidley has to get through the next week and at a pinch he could've played and got through alright, but he was a bit worried about leaving Clydsy on a string if we didn't play Tyler," Stone said.
"I think in these early games, working with two hookers is the best way to go because of the heat. We're going to Townsville next week where it's even hotter so we'll have a look at the makeup of the squad later on."
Conservative Warriors a strange prospect
It wasn't the usual game plan and it didn't really work either, with the Warriors embracing an unusually conservative style of play in their first clash of the season.
Reigning golden boot winner Shaun Johnson is known for his gifted ball playing, but was more inclined to pass it to his forwards rather than throwing it to the speedsters out wide.
"Obviously the conditions were pretty tough out there and hanging on to the ball was going to be pretty critical and it was," McFadden said of the Warriors' style of football.
"That's how we got ourselves in the contest in the first half and it's how we would've liked to finish the game off but we lacked that discipline with the ball."
The Warriors haven't won in New South Wales in 596 days
Round 19, 2013 was the last time the Warriors won in the New South Wales – a concerning stat if ever we've seen one. Against the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt, the Warriors were 10-point victors on that day. Unfortunately if this trend continues then the Warriors will be no closer to winning their maiden premiership – given the grand final is played at ANZ Stadium.