Lamb learns from shank
By his coach's own admission, Brock Lamb is probably too young to be playing first grade.
The naysayers were out in force when Lamb shanked a late shot at goal that would have levelled the scores against the Bulldogs in Round 18 only moments after one of his grubber kicks cannoned into the legs of the rushing defence allowing Moses Mbye to race away to score what proved to be the match-winning try.
A game like that could destroy the confidence of a seasoned campaigner, let alone a 20-year-old playing his first full season in the top grade.
Lamb's response was anything but sheepish, with the young playmaker taking the game by the scruff of the neck with an early try and an assist as the Knights claimed a rare 21-14 win over the Dragons in front of their adoring fans at the weekend.
He even found touch with a low kick that tempted fate and it's that sort of confidence that drew the praise of Newcastle coach Nathan Brown after Saturday's win.
"What people don't understand is if you look at Ben Hunt who just signed a million-dollar deal at the Dragons, when he was 19, he was playing under-20s. If you look at Daly Cherry-Evans, he was 21 and playing reserve grade and he just signed a 10-year, 10-million-dollar deal," Brown said after his side's win over the Red V.
"Brock Lamb's 20 playing first grade, well before he should have started playing first grade which everyone needs to acknowledge.
"What we saw today, he had a very good defensive game, he kicked the ball really well and he was error free so that's a really good response from him after he's had a tough few weeks. That makes me feel happy for him.
"I showed him a picture of young Brodie Croft at Melbourne and they led the Roosters by 10 with three-and-a-half minutes to go and he failed to find touch and they got a seven-tackle set [and went on to win].
"He's not on his own; first grade is a hard place to learn footy and Brock's learning it with a lot of other young kids. We've got high hope for Brock over time. He's got some basic parts of the game that he does very well, and as he matures, I'd like to think there's a footballer in him."
Halves partner Trent Hodkinson said Saturday's performance was a breakout game for his young teammate.
"Brock's a very mature kid," Hodkinson told NRL.com.
"He was very disappointed with himself after that Bulldogs game but he let that go pretty quickly which shows the type of person he is and where he's going with his football. For him to get rid of that and move on and play like he did today, that shows he's got a massive future in the game."
Saturday's game was also a redemption story of sorts for Hodkinson who was criticised for not putting his hand up to take the penalty goal against his former side.
The veteran halfback has made a habit of stepping up in the clutch moments – he kicked two late field goals in his 13th game for Manly, slotted a golden-point one-pointer in the 2014 finals and famously crossed to hand NSW a rare series win – and Hodkinson showed he can still be the man with the match-sealing field goal on Saturday.
"I enjoy those situations. For the boys to get me in a position to do so was all I needed. I had the easy job of slotting it over; it was the big boys who did all the hard work," he said.
"I've had a bit of success at the Bulldogs with the game on the line and I'm confident in those situations that I can knock it over when called upon."
Hodkinson is contracted for another season but his future has been somewhat clouded with Roosters wunderkind Connor Watson set to join the Knights in 2018.
"There's obviously a plan moving forward," Hodkinson said.
"All I can focus on is what I do this year to finish off strong for the club. I've got one more year here so we'll have to see what happens and go on from there."
Just what that role is remains clouded with Brown making it clear that Watson will slot into the halves as a running five-eighth capable of filling in at fullback should fellow recruit Kalyn Ponga be unavailable.
"We'll have some good competition next year in our halves with Connor coming," Brown said.
"Connor's a player who could support Kalyn if Kalyn got hurt, but if truth be told, we'd much rather put Connor in one spot, and six will be the spot that we put him in and let him develop his game. We don't want to move him, but that's for next year."