Sharks praise spirited Knights
It is rare for a side to praise the opposition but the Sharks were full of compliments for the Knights after their one-point win over Newcastle on Saturday afternoon.
With many predicting the affair to be heavily in favour of the defending premiers, the Knights clawed their way back into the game on the back of a resilient showing in defence, particularly with the Sharks making seven line breaks to one and having an extra 14 sets.
After piling on a combined scoreline of 98-4 against the Knights in 2016, Cronulla were forced to scramble late to save themselves from what would have been one of the upsets of the season.
"Full credit to Newcastle… I thought they played really well, they completed well and defended outstanding on their line," Sharks back-rower Luke Lewis said after the match.
"They really made us play and full credit to them they got back in the game.
"They made us ask questions and it got a little bit frustrating.
"We switched off a bit but it just goes to show what Browny (Knights coach Nathan Brown) has done with that side.
"He's done a real good job and the players really got themselves back into it, we were just lucky that Jimmy (James Maloney) slotted that field goal.
"They've been in a lot of games and got beat by Penrith last week but they were off their game and are a good side that's getting better.
"We probably didn't show them enough respect."
Recently re-signed Cronulla back-rower Wade Graham agreed that the Knights had improved markedly in the space of 12 months.
"I think they've been going really well to be honest and have made some big steps," Graham said.
"The way they play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm shows they're really working towards rebuilding that club."
When asked what it was like for coach Shane Flanagan to prepare his side for a game they were widely expected to win following last season's results, Graham was quick to defend the rebuilding club.
"Every side understands that Browny had a team last year that and I've heard him say many times were playing well before their time in first grade and there was going to be some pain last year," Flanagan said.
"They're going to reap the rewards this year, will win some footy games and compete really hard even though they've got a still got a young team.
"The pain of last year will improve those players this year and we knew they weren't going to be easy, they weren't going to lay down and teams won't put what they put on them last year."
Knights coach Brown agreed his team did well considering they were hardly given a chance, but said the crucial final seven minutes of the game weren't controlled well enough when it counted.
"I think everyone would agree with the quality of opposition that we played, the fact that the amount of possession that they had through their good management was outstanding," Brown said.
"[Cronulla's] game management suggests why they've won a grand final and are one of the more favoured teams to do well.
"We certainly have shown with four out of five games this year that we are digging in but we did lose a close game again so that's obviously not so good.
"We've definitely improved a lot on last year and now we need to understand that we've got to come up with a good defensive effort every week and when we get into close situations during games we need to learn to win them.
"Teams that are generally up the top like your Cowboys and Melbourne win those clutch games and the sides that don't win them are in those situations we are in now.
"To be able to keep turning them away with our scramble defence, we are happy with where we've come as oppose to where we were.
"We bounced back effort wise and defensively."
Brown confirmed prop-forward Jack Stockwell required over 13 stitches under his chin after a nasty head clash with Paul Gallen in the first half, while Sione Mata'utia will undergo concussion protocol tests during the week in a bid to play the Bulldogs on Friday night.