Relieved, pleased and proud.
That is how Knights mentor Adam O’Brien felt after his first game as an NRL head coach ended in a 20-0 victory over the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday – Newcastle’s first shut-out against any team since a 30-0 win against Cronulla in 2014.
“I’m pleased with our defence, I’m pleased with the zero, I’m pleased with the resolve on the try-line,” O’Brien told the media after the game.
“The coach in me is saying we’ve still got work to do … but at the same time, I can only be proud of them. I asked for effort in defence and that’s what I got, so I’ve got to be happy with them tonight.”
The Knights physically dominated the Warriors in the middle of the field and scrambled to defend their goal-line on several occasions, most notably when wingers Edrick Lee and Hymel Hunt made try-saving tackles in the final two minutes when the win had already been secured.
Pearce and Ponga combine
“I was really happy with that part of our game – defending our try-line in particular,” O’Brien said.
“Edrick’s tackle at the end probably typified it for me. He doesn’t put himself in that frame, we still win, but that’s not the attitude of this group. That’s not what we want. We want to make sure we’re putting ourselves in the frame every time, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“The scamble D … right at the end of the game when the game was probably already put to bed, to come up with those, tells me they clearly understand that’s where they get their feedback around their performance. It’s definitely got to be in those sort of moments defensively.”
Daniel Saifiti crawls his way over
O’Brien said there was still work to do in attack, which will come with time spent together developing combinations, and they could not relax based on one stand-out defensive effort.
“This club’s been built on such a rich and proud history, so I guess it’s a good tip of the cap to this group that they can hang on to. They set some real good standards,” he said.
Newcastle led 10-0 at half-time after tries by Daniel Saifiti and Lee in the ninth and 18th minutes, then Kalyn Ponga added their third in the 49th minute after pouncing on a Mitchell Pearce grubber.
Ponga, who added four goals from five attempts in his 50th NRL appearance, praised the resolve shown by the 10,239 fans who braved rain, wind and uncertainty around the coronavirus.
“It is a great way to start, and I’m proud of our efforts, but there’s always room to improve and we can’t just think that’s going to happen each week. We’ve got to earn it,” Ponga said.
“Despite everything that’s happening in the world, to have 10,000 out there in the rain, that’s pretty memorable. We love our fans, and to get that sort of turn-out, it’s huge.”
Mann picks up a loose ball and sends Lee in