Knights coach Nathan Brown was at a loss to explain his team’s lack of urgency or intensity in the opening 20 minutes of their 26-18 loss to Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Newcastle slumped to their fourth successive defeat – and third straight at home – but the defensive desire, commitment and competitiveness they showed in narrow losses to the Dragons, Raiders and Panthers was nowhere to be seen against the Sea Eagles.
Manly punched holes up the middle and created space on the edges and were rewarded with three converted tries to establish a match-winning 18-0 lead after 20 minutes.
“Our lack of intensity to start the contest, we were really poor there, and not at the level we’ve certainly been at for the first four weeks," Brown said.
“The fact that we had two real tough, tight losses, to think we could just mosey on through against a good side in that early part … was very, very disappointing.
“I can’t make any excuse for anything. I can’t offer anything.
Match Highlights: Knights v Sea Eagles
“I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t expect it … We certainly saw plenty of it in the second half when we had them in some uncomfortable positions, but why we didn’t start like that, I wish I could tell you.”
Converted tries to Edrick Lee and Aidan Guerra either side of half-time reduced the deficit to 18-12, raising hopes of a comeback, but Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Connor Watson made handling errors in the ruck in the space of three minutes to allow Manly to regain momentum.
Ponga places it for Lee to score
Daly Cherry-Evans kicked a penalty goal in the 57th minute to extend Manly’s advantage to 20-12 then converted Addin Fonua-Blake’s try in the 63rd minute for a 26-12 lead.
The Knights threatened a late rally when Mitch Barnett scored a converted try in the 67th minute to pull within 26-18, then Fonua-Blake was sin-binned for a high shot on Newcastle captain Mitchell Pearce from the subsequent kick-off.
“Again, back in the contest with 12 men and we have one-out hit-ups for three sets, so we needed to be far better than that,” Brown said.
“The game was lost in the first 15 minutes. To leak what we leaked, and go down 18, that’s where the game was won and lost.”
Adding injury to insult, Guerra suffered a suspected broken tibia and fibula in the 74th minute and was headed for hospital for X-rays after leaving the field on the medicab.
“That’s a bad one. From what we believe, he may have broken his leg,” Brown said.
“That’s a double-whammy – a really poor performance then a broken leg for one of your players, so it’s not good.”