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Stat Attack: How Knights rose from early season wreckage

Back in round six, the Knights put in one of the worst performances by any team this year, wiped away by the struggling Titans 38-14 on the back of schoolboy errors and defensive lapses.

It was their fifth straight loss and it could just as easily have been six if not for a fortuitous intercept try that helped them scrape past the Sharks in round one.

Calls for coach Nathan Brown's head grew louder and bookies wound them in for the wooden spoon.

Amid the turmoil, they galvanised themselves and emerged a week later to put 18 points on Parramatta in the opening 26 minutes of their round seven clash at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Come full-time and they had registered a morale-boosting 28-14 win.

That was April 28 and they haven't lost since.

So what's changed? After crunching the numbers, it can be revealed: just about everything.

Their errors and conceded breaks and missed tackles are down, completions and possession and tackle efficiency and metres per game and tries scored are all up.

Given their round 12 bye, the Knights have played exactly half their 24 regular season games after 13 rounds and the numerical differences between their first six games and the next six are startling, according to Stats.

There is a bit of chicken-and-egg about these figures. Has all the good attacking form come off the back of better completions? Or has improved energy in their ball-carrying and defensive impact helped ease the pressure and consequently led to a reduction in errors?

Completion rates can be a bit of a crutch for coaches to lean on after a loss and they certainly attract more attention than they should at times.

Storm v Knights - Round 14

The Knights have now made the equal-fewest errors (110) in the NRL along with the Storm, suggesting this is a positive stat. But the three next best are the struggling Bulldogs, Warriors and Wests Tigers.

Top-eight sides make up five of the eight most error-prone teams at this point with the Roosters and Sharks third and fourth most for errors.

But the fact remains there is some positive correlation between improved completion rates and improved win rates up to around 80-85% over a long period.

And Newcastle's completion rate of just under 75% after six rounds improved to almost 85% for the following six games.

Perhaps more crucially, their average possession count in those first six games was below 49% and errors aside, it is very tough to win games when your opponents consistently have more ball. Only once in those five losses did the Knights manage better than 50% possession (52% in the round five 26-18 loss to Manly)

That has completely flipped, with Newcastle winning the possession battle in all bar one of their six wins since.

The improved performances and completions have fed through to a host of other stats. The team's average run metres has improved from 1469 per game to 1592, tries from 2.3 to 4.7, line breaks from 2.8 to 4.3 and busts from around 30 to 35.

Effective tackle percentage has crept up from 88.2 to 89.7 while total tackles made have dropped by around 36 per game.

Interestingly the one stat that appears to have gone the other way is penalties conceded; the Knights were getting pinged six times per game through six rounds but that has jumped to over nine per game since.

Newcastle's form reversal has had an interesting impact on Blues prop David Klemmer's output.

Klemmer is arguably the one Knights player who was consistently good both through the first six rounds as well as through the win streak, but the nature of his work has shifted.

Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga grabs a try.
Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga grabs a try. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

As the Knights battled, Klemmer was making almost 38 tackles per game but has been called on to make just 31 per match since while his average metres have increased from an already-impressive 170 to 193 per game.

The improved platform has allowed playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga to flourish.

Pearce had just two try assists after six rounds but is now up to eight, while Ponga crossed the stripe just once in the first six rounds but has scored six more tries during the streak.

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