Knights back attack to win ugly in finals

By Scott Bailey
Kalyn Ponga (l) believes Newcastle can draw on the experience of their tight NRL wins come finals. (AAP)

Newcastle insist there can be a silver lining to their "clunky" attack in 2021, despite history indicating they can't advance past week one of the NRL finals.

The Knights have averaged just 17.83 points per game this season - the second worst attacking record of any finals team in the NRL era.

Their output ranked them 15th in attack, only better than bottom side Canterbury in 2021, with no other team that has been in the bottom two attacking sides ever going past the first week of the finals.

While their for-and-against of -143 is the second worst of any finalist in the NRL era, the Knights take solace in the fact they have learned to win ugly.

Half of their 12 wins this year have been by six points a less, in a campaign in which the average margin of games has blown out to three converted tries across the competition.

With the old adage that defence wins premiership in mind, Newcastle believe their battles can give them an edge for their sudden-death clash with Parramatta.

"It's a bit like golf, if you win by one you still win," star fullback Kalyn Ponga said.

"A lot of the finals is about effort. We do have to execute plays but I think effort and that mentality gets you wins.

"It's not all about the pretty plays, it's about working hard. That wins finals game.

"Footy hasn't changed. Defence still wins and we want to be a good defensive team."

Ponga said the Knights had tried to find a balance in the search for expansive football, after coach Adam O'Brien admitted last week that tightened up while fighting for finals spots.

"We've got to find a balance and that's what the best sides do. Obviously we've got footy in us," Ponga said.

"We've got players who can do great things with the footy.

"It's just about putting the footy in their hands at the right time and playing freely."

Newcastle's game has been built on error-free football, ranked second in that category and having the fourth most play-the-balls on the opposition lines.

But they have made the third fewest linebreaks and tackle busts, while only scoring more tries than the Bulldogs and drawing criticism from Andrew Johns.

Mitchell Pearce conceded on Tuesday the team's attack had struggled but said he hadn't taken criticism personally.

"I agree with it. There's no doubt we've been clunky," Pearce said while refuting claims he could leave the Knights at years' end.

"It's hard to just speak about (the attacking issues) over an interview, there's obviously different reasons.

"I'm not doubting the attack either. I know that we've good enough in us to create the points ... I know we've got enough in our arsenal.

"At the end of the day big games are won on the back of effort and will to win."

What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.