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O'Brien praises players' ability to adapt to tough times

Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien has been pleased with his players’ professionalism and patience in dealing with the NRL’s ever-changing landscape amid the coronavirus crisis.

After their 20-0 shut-out of the Warriors at home last Saturday, the Knights face fellow first-round winners Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.

O’Brien said Newcastle players were being kept regularly updated by Knights and NRL management, had taken each day’s developments in their stride, and were learning to live with lifestyle restrictions for the good of the game.

“They understand it’s important that we prepare really well for a game of footy, but at the same time we take advice from the doctors and the NRL and control what we can control,” O’Brien told a media conference in Newcastle on Saturday morning.

“I think they completely understand that if we’re to get through this, we need to bind together and we need to, I guess, toe the line.

“The players are great and they understand that there’s going to be some uncomfortable moments, especially in your down time and your free time, but ultimately, it’s just what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get on with it.”

Wests Tigers v Knights - Round 2

Apart from a likely charter flight to Canberra to play the Raiders on April 18, and similar arrangements for “Magic Round” at Suncorp Stadium in early May, Newcastle are scheduled to play at home or against Sydney-based clubs for the next four months.

That is a less taxing travel schedule than many clubs are facing, and means the Knights will be able to spend more time at home than players from some other clubs, but O’Brien indicated the new rules around self-isolation will take a toll on all players and their families.

“Look at the Warriors, what they’re going through,” O’Brien said.

“It’s a huge impact and you’ve got to really admire what the Warriors have done, to put our game ahead of their own team’s performance.

“I really tip my cap to those guys but in terms of affecting family, look, it does.

“We just need to be the best prepared we can, and just everyone bind together and make sure that we’re doing everything we can. That’s all we can ask.”

Preparing to play in an empty ground for the first time, O’Brien said the Knights must “make their own fun” by playing with the same intensity they produced against the Warriors.

Though the Knights held the Warriors scoreless last Saturday, O’Brien was well aware of how threatening the Michael Maguire-coached Wests Tigers will be if allowed enough time and space with the ball in their hands.

Playmaker Benji Marshall and new halves partner Josh Reynolds caused problems for the Dragons last Sunday, and winger David Nofoaluma looms as another danger man.

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“If you want to take a breath in defence or take a rest, they’ll hurt you, so it’s really important that we stay on defensively,” O’Brien said.

“Madge (Maguire), obviously, will have his team well prepared and they’ll be fired up, so we need to make sure that we start well. But certainly in terms of maintaining what we did last week, definitely our energy and effort in defence will go a long way towards helping us have a good performance.

“They’ve got some structured play but they can jump off script pretty quickly and they can hurt you.

“Guys like Benji, in terms of his running game and his kicking game, they’ve got some results off Benji’s kicking game. Then you throw in Reynolds, very unpredictable, and guys like Nofoaluma.

“They’ve got some offload into expansive play on the back of structure, so we need to be alive on everything.”