Knights coach Nathan Brown lamented his team’s lack of energy and loss of composure when reduced to 12 men late in their 20-14 loss to Canterbury at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Newcastle led 8-0 with 22 minutes remaining but conceded three converted tries in 13 minutes, including two while prop James Gavet was in the sin-bin for a “forceful and late” tackle on Bulldogs lock Chris Smith, to drop their third game from their past four.
“We were a bit down on energy, truth be told,” Brown said at the post-match media conference.
“We were a touch off with our energy, our kicking game was horrible, and we probably had them covered still. Then they got a try from our kick, where they went the length of the field from our kick, and they got two when we had 12.
“We just imploded on ourselves, so it’s disappointing.”
All four of Newcastle’s State of Origin representatives backed up after the Blues’ 26-20 victory in the decider last Wednesday. Mitchell Pearce, Tim Glasby and Daniel Saifiti all started, and David Klemmer came off the bench against his old club.
Though Brown was pleased to have so many players involved in the Origin series, it contributed alongside injuries and suspensions to a disrupted build-up to recent games.
“This was always going to be a tough game for us. We’ve had huge amounts of changes with our squad over the past five weeks with injuries and suspensions and people changing position all the time,” he said.
“I was just hopeful of us grinding out a win, to be honest with you, then get back on the horse and start getting a bit of cohesion again in the back bit of the year.
“But when your energy levels are down a touch, and Canterbury always plays with good energy, and our attack was not where it needed to be. We had people whose attention to detail wasn’t as good as it has been this year.”
Brown did not dispute referee Matt Cecchin’s ruling on Gavet’s late hit on Smith in the 67th minute. The Bulldogs levelled the scores at 8-8 with a goal from the subsequent penalty, then scored two converted tries in Gavet’s absence to kick clear at 20-8.
“Everyone can make their judgement there but at the end of the day, they said they were going to do it, and they’ve done it, so they’ve stuck with what they’ve said,” Brown said.
“So there’s not a great deal I can come out and say against it. It’s a part of the game they want to eradicate, which is fair enough.”
Brown was more disappointed with conceding a penalty from a kick-off that went dead in-goal and other errors on both sides of the ball while Gavet was off the field.
“When we had 12 men, we handled that terribly … and we kept putting ourselves under pressure,” he said.
“… If we could have got away with one try [while he was] in the sin-bin, who knows what may have happened, but we handled that part of the game poor.”
On a positive note as they prepare to take on the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground next Saturday, Brown expected Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga to return from the calf injury he suffered in Origin II in Perth almost three weeks ago.
Utility forward Mitch Barnett will also be eligible for selection, having served a three-game suspension for a crusher tackle on Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes.