Newcastle mentor Nathan Brown has dismissed ongoing criticism of himself and captain Mitchell Pearce as “part of the job” for coaches and halfbacks of losing teams.
After four straight defeats, disgruntled Knights fans have grown impatient with a squad most judges expected to be finals contenders, and Brown and Pearce are bearing the brunt of most of their barbs.
Though Newcastle’s effort could not be questioned in narrow losses to the Panthers, Raiders and Dragons, there was a lack of intensity in the first 20 minutes at home against Manly last Saturday, when they trailed 18-0 on their way to a 26-18 defeat.
Brown can feel the heat in the build-up to their game against Gold Coast at Robina on Easter Sunday but “a kick up the back-side” would not affect the way he prepares his team.
“They’re all important games. None are more important than others,” Brown said.
“Obviously when you’re coming off a number of losses, and there’s probably four or five of us coaches who are all on one win … with that mounts pressure, there’s no doubt about that.
“Generally the halves and the coaches at all these clubs are getting a bit of a hard time and people start all sorts of stories about this bloke’s not happy and that bloke’s not happy, and that’s the nature of the job that we sign up for and we’ve got to accept that.
“The criticism’s not personal, it’s just a part of what happens when you’re losing games as a rugby league coach, but all’s we do is we knuckle down and work hard.
“We know as a club and a team, we’re very close. We could have quite easily won another two or three games but the reality is we didn’t, so the scoreboard doesn’t look as good and with that comes a bit of a kick up the backside which you’ve got to accept.”
Brown said he did not take criticism personally, and he was confident the tide would turn if everyone in the team did their job a little better.
Newcastle struggled for direction when Pearce left the field with a head knock and sat out the final 12 minutes against Manly, and Brown expected better support from five-eighth Mason Lino and fullback Kalyn Ponga against the Titans.
Utility Kurt Mann remains unavailable because of injury, so Lino has retained the No.6 jersey for a third straight game and Connor Watson was named on the bench to cover several roles.
“There’s a number of things for us to look at but as a whole, we need to get our seven, six and one connecting a little bit better, and our six and one can help Mitchell a little bit more,” Brown said.
“I know there’s a number of people who have been reasonably critical of Mitchell’s form but when he did go off the field, we looked like … we didn’t have anyone who knew how to play rugby league before. They had 12 and we had 13 and we didn’t know how to play without him.
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“That really exposed how important Mitchell is to the team, and his organisation, and it also exposed that ‘KP’ needs to take a little bit more responsibility and add some growth to his game.
“What it also showed is whether it’s Mason or whether it’s Connor, they need to take a little bit more responsibility … and that will help ease the burden on Mitchell.
“In our case, obviously Mitchell has always been a target since he was 17 with his Dad (Wayne Pearce) being who he was, then Mitchell having a reputation as a younger player.
“Mitch would be the first to say he could do a little better than what he is but it’s about other people helping contribute to him doing better as well.”
Brown said Aidan Guerra is expected to be sidelined for up to four months after surgery on Monday to repair his right ankle, which he dislocated and fractured in the final minutes against Manly.
Sione Mata’utia is likely to miss a second straight game because of a shoulder injury, so Mitch Barnett been named to start in the back row and Herman Ese’ese has replaced Guerra on the bench.