Up Front with Tony Butterfield

BEFORE I get into all things footy, what about our own Kurt Fearnley leading the bleeding brass band up the High Street in London this week?

“Hey up, cock. Talk about blimmin’ big time!”

The bloke’s a superstar and all-round good guy with yet another highlight in a most distinguished career.

One can only imagine what was going through the head of the lad from the small valley township of Carcoar in the Central West of NSW as he headed the parade up the mall like a world leader. Come to think of it, he is.

I’VE written before about the margin for error in top-level sport. Be it cricket, lawn bowls, tennis, or league, the difference between agony and ecstasy can be as little as a blade of grass or the shine of a ball.

A big part of the appeal for players (and fans), these special moments or near misses make the pursuit of personal excellence worthwhile. Though to achieve the coveted thrill, most must persist and endure, for years, on and off the field. All the while running on-loop an internal and incessant critique of the smallest of progress considerations.

Overlaid with team combinations and ethos, good players evolve to eventually master, consistently, those elusive principles and practices needed to win when it matters.

In the early stages of their own evolution, and far too early to assess any “consistency” credentials, our Knights nonetheless earned one such special moment last week – as a team and as individuals.

And it was a powerful moment for the struggling club when Nathan Ross Dog scored to put the win beyond doubt and break the drought.  Perhaps, a turning point for a team that may have found its soul.

Post-game analysis, however, highlights a less-flattering set of metrics, bringing some rationality to the debate. Despite completing sets at 83 per cent, making far fewer defensive errors, and, enjoying significant personnel and home-ground advantage, they could have easily lost that one.

So, much to work on.

Right now, in racing parlance, they’re like a two-year-old colt that’s jumped well from the gates.

How they battle and barge their way before settling into stride mid-season will make or break their top-eight aspirations this season.

Which makes the next month vitally important, starting with a vulnerable Rabbitohs side on Saturday.

A step up in class from last week, absolutely. But not a team the Knights should necessarily fear. In fact, if they can immobilise a few key targets – subdue the kicking game of Adam Reynolds and Robbie Farah, and reprise last week’s control and will to win – they’re a chance of skinning those Bunnies and holding down a top-eight position.

Farah will be one to watch in his 250th NRL game. Who among our forwards will resolve to personally confront the English captain, Sam Burgess, is anyone’s guess. But he must be attended to and contained. Likewise, I expect an enthusiastic welcome for recently departed back-rower, Robbie Rochow.

In terms of improving on last week’s performance, I think it’s more of the same, just better.

But, if I were to cite one potential weakness, it would be the variable technique employed defending short sides. Execution of this most difficult of assignments has toggled between proactively moving forward, to staying back, planting the feet and waiting to be skilled.

Reynolds will have gone to school on this opportunity and will surely test us there.

THE other thing I was thinking about at the game last week was the forward rotation of coach Brown. Far be it for me to question the coach’s calculations, but watching Sione Mata’utia, I can’t help thinking we can get more punch from this bloke if he could occasionally catch his breath.

A bullocking newbie to the extra workload accepts what comes with his job description.

TEAM SPIRIT: Newcastle's win against the Gold Coast last weekend was a reward for collective effort. Picture: Getty Images

TEAM SPIRIT: Newcastle's win against the Gold Coast last weekend was a reward for collective effort. Picture: Getty Images

The Knights might get more punch from Sione Mata'utia if he could occasionally catch his breath.

That said, the power-packed pocket battleship might respond well to a five-minute break, if only to restore his energy and deliver additional punch at the back end of games.

Of course, with only eight interchanges, the question for Brown is who to leave out there.

AT the game last week, I caught up with my old rugby mate Patches, who had his even bigger rugger mate in tow. Loved the footy, cheered the Knights and left feeling good, and not just about the win.

You see, typical of the leather-patch brigade, these strictly amateurs were just as interested with a lone pigeon nodding around the halfway mark, oblivious to the occasional avalanche of boots, for three-quarters of the game. “As brave as any Wallaby,” both units enthused, as the super pigeon ignored the danger.

In fact, the players are to be commended for not stomping our hero into fertiliser as he or she barely moved from a tasty patch.

“It’s a metaphor for standing your ground in the face of adversity,” one of the big units intoned.

THE individual performance of last round, just shaving Johnathan Thurston’s heroics, was Cronulla’s Wade Graham.

Breaking last week’s game wide open after two supurb tries in succession, he continues to grow in stature and is proving to be among the most competent and respected leaders in the player ranks. A Penrith junior halfback, he can play big minutes and most positions on the field.

An exemplar of the modern footballer: skilful, consistent, tenacious and passionate about his business. A future Origin and Australian captain. Nice one Waydo.