Positional switches backfire on the Knights as the Luke Brooks-Tui Lolohea combination shines in the Wests Tigers' 33-12 victory at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Positional changes unsettle Knights
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown's decision to add former NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson and Englishmen Joe Wardle to the side earlier in the week seemed to rattle the side's cohesion in attack, particularly in the opening 40 minutes.
Throw in the fact Nathan Ross was playing his second game at fullback and came crashing back down to earth with a few errors following three tries last week, and the side's spine again looks to be a work in progress.
While the Knights may not have improved on today's performance if Brock Lamb and Brendan Elliot had not been omitted from the line-up, it may have been better for Brown to give the whole 17 that went down to the Dragons last week a chance to redeem themselves.
"We obviously made some changes and didn't attack as well as we have done, and there are players off-contract so that may have played its part," Brown said.
"Our attack struggled but I wouldn't say it was Trent Hodkinson's fault.
"It was definitely our worst performance this year, without a doubt."
Wests Tigers avoid unwanted history
No side wants to "break" a club losing record and the Wests Tigers thoroughly deserved to snap their string of seven straight defeats, with many writing them off earlier in the week prior to their trip to Newcastle – particularly after losing key man James Tedesco to an ankle injury.
The joint venture had never lost eight straight since their inception in 2000 and were able to avoid being written into the record books with their 21-point win.
Heading into the bye week, Ivan Cleary's men are now off the bottom of the Telstra Premiership ladder with Newcastle in line for their third consecutive wooden spoon.
"We knew it was going to be a fine day and the breaks early gave us some confidence," Cleary said.
"We bombed a few tries but set up a lead."
Newcastle's edge defence struggles
Defensively out on the right edge the Knights have struggled in 2017 and they were targeted by the Wests Tigers with Moses Suli, Kevin Naiqama and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak running Wardle, Jaelen Feeney and Ken Sio ragged in defence.
Despite the first-half demolition, Cleary said it wasn't an initial target of attack.
"I was surprised Dane Gagai went on the left side, but not necessarily… it was just how the game went [as to how we targeted them]," Cleary said.
"The boys were smart enough as the game was progressing to work out where they were getting success.
"It wasn't a tactic before the game. We came here with a plan and it was paying off early."
Lolohea-Brooks combo clicks
A fortnight ago Luke Brooks admitted he had only trained with new recruit Tui Lolohea twice in the lead-up to the Wests Tigers' loss over the Titans.
Fast-forward another eight days and the combination blossomed with further training.
It was arguably Brooks' best performance in over a year with his support play the major asset to come out of the victory, while Lolohea was instrumental for the Tigers despite speculation he could make way for possible signing Connor Watson next season.
"[Tui's] best positions are in the six and fullback so the plan was always for him to come over and play five-eighth for us this year, and then we will see," Cleary said.
"He's played 50-odd games and is still only young. He is obviously very talented and still hasn't found his best footy."
Crowd stuns on fine day
Spare a thought for the loyal Novocastrian faithful.
What other team that has only won three games in almost two years can still attract a crowd of nearly 20,000 to a home ground?
While the Wests Tigers supporters traditionally turn up to McDonald Jones Stadium each year too, the people of Newcastle continue to come through the gates in droves.
A strong crowd of 19,531 flocked through the gates, on the back of the 21,653 turnout in the corresponding clash last season.
Brown said the occasion and opportunity to go clear of the bottom of the Telstra Premiership ladder may have got to the side.
"It was the first time in 18 months we had been favourites," Brown said.
"Whether that played a part in it and had people focus on it more, I'm not sure."