Knights awake to slack starts

WILLIE Mason cannot explain what the problem is.

Coach Wayne Bennett thinks he knows, is not saying what it is, but has begun to address it.

Both agree the Knights cannot afford another sleepy start against the Sharks at Hunter Stadium tonight in a game they must win to maintain a realistic hope of forcing their way into the finals.

‘‘Of course it’s fixable, but the first thing is knowing what the problem is, and I’m thinking I’m getting closer to knowing what the problem is,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘The first time it happens, you think it’s a bit of an aberration, the second time you’re not too sure, the third time you start to realise you’ve got an issue, and by the fifth time, you obviously haven’t got it resolved. But as I said, I think we’re getting closer to getting some answers as to what’s actually happening.’’

The Knights trailed the Bulldogs 24-0 after 17 minutes nine days ago, recovering to outplay the NRL leaders for much of the final hour only to go down 26-10, and there have been similar slow starts all season.

They trailed the Broncos 24-0 after 21 minutes and lost 50-24, and trailed the Rabbitohs 22-4 after 24 minutes and lost 34-14.

Twice they have recovered to win after missing the jump.

In their last Monday night game seven weeks ago, they trailed the Tigers 14-0 after 23 minutes and fought back to win 38-20. They dug themselves an 18-0 hole against the Warriors in Auckland three weeks ago but rallied to win 24-19.

Not often stuck for words, Mason said: ‘‘I’d like to give you a proper answer but I just don’t know. We have done that three or four times this year ... so we really need to nail that, and we’ve got a month to work on it.’’

The giant forward, who will be joined in the front row by fellow former NSW and Australian prop Kade Snowden tonight after Snowden was cleared to return from a knee injury, said the players were pleased with how well they hit back against the Bulldogs.

‘‘Getting 24 points put on you in 15 minutes, then not getting a point put on you at all for the rest of the game by the team coming first, that was pretty good, so there are some positives to come out of last week, but still we have to fix it.

‘‘We can’t be giving up 24 points. We can’t be giving up 12, or anything like that any more. We’ve got to be on our game from the start.’’

Bennett has been heartened by his team’s tendency to bounce back from adversity all year.

‘‘It’s been quite unique, actually,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘You have to appreciate how difficult it is playing one of the top teams in the comp, 24-0 down, and not letting everything go and get beaten by 50 points.

‘‘It takes a pretty special character to do that. They’ve done it more than once, so that’s certainly a wonderful trademark they have.’’

Bennett said Alex McKinnon, who has recovered from a virus, would replace Joel Edwards in the back row, leaving a bench of Robbie Rochow, Zeb Taia, Adam Cuthbertson and Zane Tetevano.

Utility Wade Graham (sternum) and prop Bryce Gibbs (shoulder) were not named for the Sharks but have trained with the side and could be late inclusions, and former Knights and Roosters back-rower Anthony Tupou has been hampered by a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Edwards and fellow senior players Matt Hilder and Junior Sa’u scored tries in Newcastle’s 28-14 NSW Cup victory over Mounties at Mount Pritchard on Saturday.

Edwards was named last Tuesday to play against the Sharks tonight but was dropped to NSW Cup.

Bennett said that was based on his form, not the Cessnock junior’s decision to leave the club at the end of the season to sign a three-year deal with Canberra.

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