Knights halves' steep learning curve
They're the most inexperienced halves pairing in the NRL Telstra Premiership with 19 games between them but Knights halfback Jaelen Feeney isn't keen on making excuses for the pair's role in the 10-point loss to the Penrith Panthers on Sunday.
After a blistering opening half and commanding performance against the Raiders last start, the combination between Feeney and Brock Lamb is only three games old but was on song once more in the first 40 minutes before falling away in a show of inexperience in shutting a game down.
Costly errors in the second half undid all that was right in the contest early on for the Knights with both Lamb and Feeney guilty of coughing up the ball on two occasions apiece and lacking any control around the ruck in contrast to the opening 40 minutes.
"We ran away with it in the first half with possession and controlling the ruck well but what we did to them they did to us in the second half," Feeney told NRL.com.
"We learnt games are two 40-minute halves and when the momentum changes it is really hard to get it back.
"We could've put the game away but just came up with crucial errors."
One mistake Feeney speaks of was straight after half-time when the match officials ruled a forward pass from Feeney to Lamb that would have put the Knights into open space straight after the break.
The sudden changeover ensured Penrith controlled the contest from that point onwards by laying on five second-half tries to one with Newcastle's defence on the line not as strong.
It was an honest assessment from the 22-year-old who was convinced the match officials had got the call wrong in the first place.
"I had to turn physically behind to get the ball to Brock so there's no way it was forward but they've got a split second to call it so you just have to leave it up to them," Feeney said.
"There were a lot of 50-50 calls that seemed to go their way and they seemed to get the rub of the green."
Now three games into their combination in the six and seven jersey, both Feeney and Lamb's promising first-half performance is enough to take into their next clash with Melbourne in Round 13 after the bye this week.
"[Brock and I] suit each other well I think… he is super calm and controlled whereas I'm a bit erratic and like to pop up on both sides of the field when I can," Feeney said.
"'Browny' (coach Nathan Brown) has given us a bit of a free reign to stick to a game plan but when we see eyes up we can go as we want."
Not since Andrew Johns laced on a boot in 2007 have the Knights been able to find a player to replace the eighth Immortal without disturbance.
Despite donning the famous No.7 jersey, Feeney isn't keen on the high expectations that come with the halfback position from rugby league fans and made a decision earlier in the year to log out of all forms of social media to avoid such comments online.
"I just want to let my footy do the talking," Feeney said.
"There is a lot of pressure out there and things I still need to learn.
"I'm only going to be able to do that by playing first grade week-to-week and making sure I don't make the same mistakes twice.
"If you think about it like I'm telling grown men on the field pretty much how to do their jobs.
"It's like you're the foreman of a work site and it's the job I took at a young age."
It was dubbed a risky move for Brown to drop former Knights skipper Trent Hodkinson – the highest paid player at the club – to the Intrust Super Premiership in a bid to gain back some confidence.
Despite being the player to replace the veteran halfback, Feeney says the influence Hodkinson and former Knight Jarrod Mullen have had on both he and Lamb have kept them relaxed.
"The way 'Hodko' (Hodkinson) has been the last couple of weeks with not making the team, he's still there for the team and ripping in and training just as hard," Feeney said.
"I couldn't thank 'Hodko' enough and also Jarrod Mullen too.
"When I come into grade those two definitely took me under their wing with Brock and taught us about what we need to prepare for coming into first grade.
"I suit probably Mullen's game a bit more whereas Lamb is more suited to Hodko."