Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien has warned there is no “quick fix” as the Knights struggle through the worst home stretch of their 35-year history.
A 42-6 loss to defending premiers Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday was Newcastle’s fifth straight drubbing on their home ground, following similar hammerings at the hands of Brisbane (36-12), Melbourne (50-2), Parramatta (39-2) and Manly (30-6) in the past two months.
Newcastle have been outscored 197-28 during that run, conceding 33 tries and scoring just four.
Not even during their miserable run of three straight wooden spoons between 2015 and 2017, which included a club-record 19-game losing streak, did the Knights post as many successive lopsided defeats in front of their loyal, long-suffering fans.
A crowd of 21,332 packed in on Sunday but many headed for the exit gates before the final siren, as was the case in previous routs against the Broncos, Storm, Eels and Sea Eagles.
“No-one’s setting out to let them down or have them leave the stadium feeling disappointed in their footy team,” Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien said at the post-game media conference.
“No-one’s setting out to do that, but there’s some stuff there, to get sustained success, if you look at the Melbournes, and those guys (Penrith) are on their path for it, it’s not an easy fix, but I’m confident that if we can get that momentum rolling, it will feed itself.
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“It’s going to take some heavy pushing at the start in a lot of areas as an organisation to get it going. But that’s what we get out of bed for every day, to try to please those people that fill those stands.
“It is not a quick fix," he added. "There’s some stuff here that’s been ingrained for, I wouldn’t say years, I’d say closer to two decades, that we need to get on top of and they’re not quick fixes.
“Rarely is progress or success in a straight line. There’s dips and plateaus, and we’re going through a fair bit of it, but we’ve got to stick at it.
“It’s not all on players either, it’s staff. We’ve all got to be working really hard at eradicating this. We’ve got the right people in the organisation, and we’ve identified, and it’s not an easy fix, but trust me, we’re working at it every day.”
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The Knights have reached the finals in both of O’Brien’s first two years in charge but will need a remarkable reversal of form and fortunes in the final third of the season to achieve that goal again, having won just four matches to be languishing in 12th position.
“We’ve got to get our pathways right, we’ve got to get our recruitment and retention right, we’ve got to get our training right, our game model — there’s a fair few things,” O’Brien conceded.
“And as I said before, there’s a lot of good people that are making a lot of improvements that aren’t that clear to see from the outside in, but they are happening, and they’re putting some really good building blocks on to some foundations, and we can get through to the other side.
“But my main concern is the team and making sure that we understand that we’re honest with ourselves and where we’re at and identify that there are some shortcomings there that have to be fixed daily for us to achieve it in a game."
Newcastle’s cause was not helped by the early departure of captain Kalyn Ponga, who failed his head injury assessment after being trampled by Viliame Kikau en route to the try-line in the 14th minute.
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That meant an earlier than scheduled return for bench utility Kurt Mann, who had to fill in at fullback instead of at lock or hooker as O’Brien had intended.
“It was significant, and probably has a ripple effect because we put Kurt there and he hadn’t done any reps there,” the coach said.
O’Brien said Ponga was in good health and spirits after the game and was confident the Queensland custodian would be available to play against the Raiders in Canberra next Sunday.
“He’ll do the protocols,” he said.
“The seven days are pretty clear – and I would have given him a rest for the next few days anyway – so we’ll get on with it.”
Newcastle face a crucial clash against the Raiders in Round 15 before returning home to McDonald Jones Stadium in Round 16 to face the Titans.