Hamstrung Mullen puts Knights out of sync
Newcastle five-eighth Jarrod Mullen's ongoing hamstring woes certainly didn't help the Knights' cause as the Sharks ran riot 36-4 on Sunday afternoon.
Knights coach Nathan Brown was unsure whether Mullen's injury was scar tissue around the same injury which kept him out for almost three months or a whole new issue itself.
Mullen's failure to return after half-time saw hooker Danny Levi and fullback Dane Gagai spend time in the halves, and forward Jacob Saifiti shift out to the centres.
For a young side who were out to avoid their 12th-straight loss, having players out of positions they have not yet mastered was to come with its detriments.
Losing Mullen too – a veteran of over 200 games – was a blow for his largely inexperienced Knights side, who have conceded 98 points against the Sharks in 2016.
The omission of Robbie Rochow (pec), Jake Mamo, Daniel Saifiti (both suspended) and Sione Mata'utia (jaw) weren't looked back fondly upon by Brown either.
"We lost those four blokes last week and then to lose 'Mullo' at half-time, we had to ask our young kids to play elsewhere," Brown said.
"Jacob Saifiti had to play centre for a while and he's a front-rower and Danny Levi is learning his trade at hooker and then he has to play in the halves.
"It sounds like I'm making excuses but they are young kids who are still learning to play their preferred positions properly. It put us fairly out of sync."
Brown found plenty of other reasons for the Knights' 32-point loss though too, which was made even more disappointing considering how close his side were to toppling the Storm and the Raiders in their past two games.
"The worst aspect was how we finished our sets. There were a number of occasions we'd come up with a bad kick where they'd run 50 or 60 metres, or we'd throw a pass which they'd intercept and run 50 metres," Brown said.
"It proves there were parts to our game which we didn't control as well as we have done in the past few weeks.
"Our last three games we have played top four teams and everyone would agree that against Melbourne and Canberra, it could've went either way.
"Injuries and suspensions didn't help us get any consistency this week, and with a lot of youth in the team it's unfortunate where we are."
While youth reigns supreme in the Hunter at the moment, Brown was pleased the Knights' 12-straight losses wasn't eating away at his younger players' confidence.
"A lot of them are rapt to be playing first grade. They're obviously disappointed to lose but their attitude at training and the way they bounce around, do their extras, watch their videos and keep doing it consistently is a real credit to them," he said.
"They'll get a lot of benefits out of that next year following another pre-season when we put some more experienced players around them."