Knights back defence for finals redemption

By Pamela Whaley
Memories of last year's finals rout by South Sydney are driving Newcastle in 2021. (AAP)

Scars from last year's messy finals exit are still stinging but Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien is putting all his chips on winning ugly against Parramatta in Sunday's NRL elimination final.

Despite an attacking record better by almost a try per game compared to this season, the Knights were bounced out of the 2020 finals with barely a whimper in a 46-20 loss to rampaging South Sydney.

It was a sorry end to a six-year hiatus from the play-offs, having won three wooden spoons in the years since making the preliminary finals under Wayne Bennett in 2013.

In hindsight, O'Brien said relief they'd finally made the top eight was so palpable they ran out of energy to go to a new level when it mattered.

"You're always better for going through something once, but looking back on our time last year our energy levels at the back end of the year weren't where they are at the moment," he said.

"I just think that relief became enough for us.

"The hurt still lingers from that game with this side and I'd anticipate that drives us a fair bit at the moment.

"But we're in a much better state physically and mentally than we were."

The Knights attack in 2020 produced an average of 21.05 points per game compared to just 17.83 this season - the second-worst attacking record of any finals team in the NRL era.

It's left them ranked 15th in attack after the regular season, better only than wooden spooners Canterbury.

No other team that has been in the bottom two attacking sides has ever advanced past the first week of the finals, and their for-and-against of -143 is also the second worst of any finalist in the NRL era.

But O'Brien is not worried as long as they can scrap as well as they have at the back end of the season, winning seven of their last 10 games.

Six of those wins were by 10 points or less.

"That's what this part of the year is about, taking your opportunities when they come because they're few and far between," he said.

"Number one is you have to start with an energy and enthusiasm and you have to get your defence in order and be disciplined with the ball.

"You saw (on Friday night) Melbourne capitalised on a lot of ill discipline from Manly and cheap possession.

"They're the boring things but they win the big games."

Props Daniel Saifiti (knee) and David Klemmer (rib) are both expected to line up in a full-strength Knights side on Sunday afternoon.


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