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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Max McKinney

'We got it done': O'Brien relieved after Knights hold on for nail-biting win

HAIR-RAISING: Newcastle's Dominic Young tackles Asu Kepaoa of the Tigers at Campbelltown on Sunday. Picture: Mark Evans, AAP
EFFORT: Knights lock Mitch Barnett takes a run during Newcastle's 14-10 win over Wests Tigers on Sunday. Picture: Getty Images

It was far from a complete performance but with a defensive resolve they have lacked for much of this season, Newcastle did enough to claim a 14-10 victory at Campbelltown on Sunday.

The Knights had conceded more points than any other side before the weekend's round, but managed to keep Wests Tigers scoreless for 52 minutes in a defensive showing rarely seen this year.

Knights coach Adam O'Brien had called out his side's "defence, resilience and character" after they were beaten 24-10 by Canterbury and his players responded after a challenging week for the club.

While they almost blew it in the second half making a string of mistakes, 17 errors in total across the game, they held on to move two points further away from the bottom of the NRL ladder.

"A relief for everyone; players, staff, families," Knights coach Adam O'Brien said.

"It was ugly but [I] don't care, we got it done."

The likes of Jacob Saifiti and Mitch Barnett led the way in defence and Barnett, in the middle of the field at lock, drove his side's improved line speed in the opening 40 minutes.

The defensive effort was there for all to see in the last couple of minutes of the first half when, after Bradman Best was denied a try at the other end, the Tigers peppered Newcastle's line with back-to-back sets of six but the Knights kept them at bay.

"The two or three minutes before halftime and the two or three minutes before full-time summed up what we want to be," O'Brien said.

"We'll get some things wrong and it will be ugly at times, but they fought hard in those periods and for that I'm really proud of them."

While the Tigers did not look like a side that had beaten Brisbane last week and came close to beating North Queensland and Penrith in the weeks prior, Newcastle's attack was much sleeker early on.

Halfback Jake Clifford had an improved showing following an average outing against the Bulldogs, which was his first appearance after a five-game absence.

He had a hand in the opening two tries, both scored by winger Enari Tuala.

Clifford turned the play back to the short side and rolled a grubber through the defensive line into space on the left flank for Tuala to collect the ball and score untouched in the sixth minute.

The winger bagged his second 10 minutes later when Clifford threw a cutout pass to centre Bradman Best, who simply had to draw the Tigers winger to put Tuala into space on the outside.

Jayden Brailey produced a captain's knock in what was likely his best game since returning from the Achilles injury that kept him out of Newcastle's first 15 games this season.

The hooker had a crafty run out of dummy-half to set-up Tex Hoy for Newcastle's third try. Hoy, who was brave at the back all day, bumped off Tigers five-eighth Adam Doueihi to score next to the left upright.

Overall, the Knights showed greater desperation in most areas but still have plenty to work on after letting the Tigers back into the game in the second stanza.

Importantly, they didn't let their errors ruin their day, moving on from their mistakes quickly.

Case in point was five-eighth Anthony Milford who, after starting the game with a poor kick that handed the Tigers a seven-tackle set, and then a bad pass that nearly put Tyson Frizell in for a try, kicked a 40-20 on a tight angle to earn the side easy field position a few touches later.

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