Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien says the Knights are on “a journey of maturity” after he blasted their inept defensive performance and poor concentration in the 42-16 massacre at the hands of David Fifita and the Gold Coast Titans.
O’Brien was scathing in his criticism of the Knights edge defence after Fifita’s hat-trick sparked an eight-try Titans mauling where the injury-ravaged Newcastle side were at times made to look like schoolboys in their defensive failings.
With the Knights missing Mitchell Pearce, Bradman Best, Tex Hoy, Kurt Mann and Jacob Saifiti they were always going to face a torrid task against the Titans, but conceding a try within 90 seconds and later from a penalty tap and a kick-off re-start all showed just how the Knights’ heads weren’t in the game.
“I wouldn’t say (we have) an attitude problem, do we have a concentration problem, yes,” O’Brien said.
“Do we make silly concentration errors defensively and with the footy, yes.
Ponga strikes from long-range
“We are on a journey of maturity and we need to continue on that journey for as long as it takes.
“It’s hard to defend some of that performance defensively.
“We got exposed on our edges a lot and around a couple of combinations we had defensively they just got found out.
“We just made some really poor concentration errors in the first half, schoolboy errors, and then we were not prepared to defend them. I was really concerned with our goal-line defence in the first half was just way too passive.
Randall scores his first NRL try
“It was clear to me after the first two sets defence wasn’t a priority today and it needs to be.”
Making matters worse for the Knights was a broken wrist to try-scorer Chris Randall while Tyson Frizell was put on report for a high shot that ended Phil Sami’s game in the seventh minute with a HIA.
But on a positive note fullback Kalyn Ponga made some sparkling runs in his return from off-season shoulder surgery to give hope that the Knights' season is not on the ropes.
Ponga may have put his kick-off out on the full, but he threw some superb passes, set up a try and scored a long-range effort himself in a performance O’Brien rated only just behind Fifita.
“Probably other than Fifita I thought he was best player on the field with the ball,” O’Brien said.
“Looked like something was going to happen around him. That is the thing that’s going to help me sleep tonight.”
Knights take advantage of extra man straight away
The Knights have a short turnaround to face Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night, with O’Brien expecting to have Mann and Best return to tighten up those edges that caused so much grief against the Titans.
But it’s clear they’ve wasted a dream draw to start 2021.
The Knights are 2-3 after three straight defeats to the Tigers, Dragons and now Titans and next week will be the first meeting with a top eight side from last year as Newcastle prepare for a tough month against Cronulla, Penrith, Roosters and Raiders.
“It’s not ideal, it’s not where we want to be,” O'Brien said.