Newcastle Knights coach Adam O’Brien has warned his players to get excited and get hungry before their season slips away.
Speaking after their 38-4 thrashing at the hands of the Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night, O’Brien struggled to explain Newcastle’s erratic performance in which they trailed 20-0 after as many minutes on their way to a fifth loss from their past six matches.
Facing a game against the equally desperate Canberra Raiders at Wagga Wagga next Saturday, the Knights have slipped to 11th after posting just three wins from their first eight games. Those have come against the last-placed Bulldogs, and courtesy of late tries against the Sharks and Warriors.
“The Roosters have had their injury toll as well, and they’ve copped more tonight, but they know what success is, they’ve had it, and they’re hungry to get it again, but we don’t seem to have that level of hunger,” O’Brien told reporters after the game.
“Whether that’s because we don’t know what it tastes like when you get it or not, I’m not too sure, but just getting picked in the first-grade team can’t be enough for us. We’ve got to find a way to compete a lot harder.”
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O’Brien will consider form-related changes after he reviews the game “but it’s bigger than that”.
“We need to find out why. We’re not the team that we were last year,” he said.
“We had injuries last year, we’ve had them again this year, but we were excited by our footy [last year] so there’s some stuff for me lying in and around that too.
“We’ll have a conversation about that and see if we can find some solutions to get excited about this season because it’s not gone yet, but we need to start making some decisions about what we want to get out of it.”
After pushing unbeaten Penrith for most of their meeting nine days earlier, the Knights looked off the pace against the Roosters, they were out-muscled and out-hustled, and – apart from a try by rookie winger Brayden Musgrove – were unable to finish off the few scoring chances they created.
“Obviously 20-0 down after 18 minutes, I was scratching my head actually, and I still am. It’s a funny game to dissect, and I just did it with the players,” O’Brien said.
“There were parts of it that I really liked, seeing as though we made some improvement in some areas with the ball, but we took some backward steps in terms of competing and that scramble that we had [against Penrith] last week.
“I think they scored three tries off kicks tonight, two off offloads where our contact was off, so I’m really mixed.
“You look at the Panthers last week, and you look at the Roosters, they’re excited by their footy, they compete and they look for opportunities and they’re nearly pushing each other out of the way to take advantage of them, and we’re not there – we’re not doing that at all.
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“Whether it’s a confidence thing or whatever, we’ve got to find some solutions and find them quick.”
O’Brien will need to find a replacement for halfback Blake Green, who was having scans after the game for suspected broken ribs. Green will not be considered for the game against the Raiders, and O’Brien will consider Phoenix Crossland or Tex Hoy as a replacement in the halves.
“I thought we did well to stem the tide and we did look OK with the ball, and I thought we had enough footy in the second half but we just didn’t attack smart,” O’Brien said.
“We tried to go around them and we’ve spoken all week about how you don’t go around the Roosters. They scramble really well, they’re so well-drilled defensively, and we needed to break down from shorter field positions to try and go through with them, and we just didn’t execute.”