Knights identify main weakness

Knights identify main weakness

Newcastle have used their bye week to focus on improving in second halves of games, an area Knights lock Mitch Barnett believes is their primary concern.

‌In five clashes this season the Novocastrians have led at the break, only to be chased down at the backend of the contest when the game is on the line.

As seen on the weekend with Cronulla Sharks skipper Paul Gallen coming up with two pivotal plays in the crunch period of the game against the Bulldogs, experience matters in key moments. 

It is well documented the Knights are lacking in the experience department and will have to settle for learning some valuable lessons in the meantime. 

"We've got a little period that we've identified and still need to work on after half-time and that is sort of what hurts us because it sets the tone for the second half," Barnett told NRL.com.

"The boys played really well against the Raiders in the 10 minutes after the break, despite conceding the early try they swung the momentum back through completing.

"If we did that against the Panthers the result would've been different but we didn't, so we need to get better and there are no excuses."

Statistically the Knights receive the least amount of ball over an 80-minute period than any other side in the Telstra Premiership – starved at an average of 45 per cent. 

However their opposition this weekend, competition leaders Melbourne, are closely followed behind them with 47 per cent, in a clear indication of the difference between the two clubs turning limited possession into points. 

"We didn't complete [against Penrith] and dropped too much ball which give them momentum and we couldn't get that back in the second half," Barnett said.

"We need to get better in that area and understand that if we're defending our line for a few sets that we need to complete after that."

A dubious forward pass call from the match officials on halfback Jaelen Feeney after half-time didn't help Newcastle's cause against the Panthers, however the side fell away and couldn't respond after the decision.

"When you have those 50-50 calls go against you and the amount we've had it gets frustrating but we need to react better to it," Barnett said.

"A few our heads go down but if we just find some more energy in those occasions we can turn back results in our favour.

"We can use the 50-50 calls excuse all we want but if we just hold the ball and get a better kick on the end of our sets it will help you win games."

Barnett's return in Round 11 was a welcome boost for the side, after the back-rower was originally expected to be sidelined for up to two months with an ankle injury. 

The 23-year-old returned to the field after missing just a fortnight with intense physiotherapy heavily contributing to the early return.

"The staff and physios have been working around the clock not just for me but for everyone and managed to get me back out on the field a lot sooner than I thought originally," he said.

"I feel like I had been out for the whole year and felt a bit unfit but the ankle pulled up good and managed to get some time to get some match fitness back."

While on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder the clash on Friday against Melbourne looks a mismatch, the Knights have got the competition leaders at a time where Storm trio Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers and Cameron Smith will all need to back up less than 48 hours after Game One of State of Origin.

Newcastle centre Dane Gagai is the only Knights representative that will need to get through Origin unscathed to take his place in Nathan Brown's side for Friday's clash at AAMI Park.

"They've been doing it for so long that they're probably used to it now but if you're going to play them it's the best time to get them a couple of days after Origin," Barnett said.

"It's going to be a tough game but the boys having a little break over the bye period will help us get stuck into them.

"We played well against them down there last year so hopefully we show the same commitment and get a different result.

"At least we're competing in games – our effort is second to none so it's pleasing."