Knights coach Nathan Brown says referees need to show consistency after their crackdown on play-the-balls.

CRACKDOWN: Both Melbourne and Newcastle were heavily penalised for incorrect play-the-balls in last week's trial match. Picture: Newcastle Knights
CRACKDOWN: Both Melbourne and Newcastle were heavily penalised for incorrect play-the-balls in last week's trial match. Picture: Newcastle Knights

KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown has no problem with the NRL’s crackdown on play-the-balls – providing referees enforce the rule consistently.

Newcastle and Melbourne were the first teams to earn the ire of the match-day officials, who are intent on ensuring that tackled players make a genuine attempt to play the ball with their foot.

During last week’s trial match at AAMI Park, which the Knights won 26-22, Newcastle were penalised nine times for incorrect play-the-balls and Melbourne five times.

Brown said coaches had been forewarned about the new zero-tolerance policy but it would take time for players to adapt.

“They were pretty hard on it, but at the end of the day, all they are doing is refereeing by the rule book,” Brown said.

“If players put their foot on the ball, then they won’t be penalised, so it’s hard to argue with that.

“It’s a bit of a change for some of the younger players, because it’s not something that has been policed in the last few seasons.

“If they’re going to be consistent and stick with it, I’m sure players will adapt to it.

“What we don’t want is for it to be policed for two or three weeks and then be forgotten about. That would be disappointing.”

Brown said the constant penalties “definitely affected the game”, which he described as a “stop-start” affair.

“Every time we started to get going in attack, we’d get penalised and hand it over, and the same with Melbourne,” he said.

“So there wasn’t a lot of flow to the game.”

Brown said if the referees were consistent, the extra second or two players would need to play the ball would make the rucks “a tad slower, without a doubt”.

Meanwhile, Knights forwards Mitch Barnett and Daniel Saifiti – both of whom missed the trial against Melbourne after off-season shoulder reconstructions – are confident they will be fit for Newcastle’s next trial, against Parramatta at Maitland Sportsground on Saturday week.

AAP reports: Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith says he intends to play most of the Friday's World Club Challenge against Leeds as he attempts to lead the Storm to a rare title-winning treble.

Smith has only had 10 days training under his belt but says he kept himself fit during his break after the World Cup and is a certain starter for the AAMI Park clash with the Super League champions.

"I feel really good," Smith said on Monday.

"I needed a good break - I think I played 33 matches so it was a big year - but I've been playing the game long enough to know I needed to return in pretty good shape.

"It's been a short preparation for such a big game ... but the training has been great and I'm confident of playing most of the match."

Only four Australian clubs since 1976 have managed to win the minor premiership, NRL (or ARL and NSW RL) title and the world crown.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said he intended fielding his strongest squad.

Melbourne achieved the feat in 2010 but the titles were stripped as part of their salary cap cheating penalties.

"I don't think too many clubs have won the minor premiership, premiership and the World Club Challenge trophy at the same time so we'd like to join that elite group," Bellamy said.

While Melbourne will be missing big-name recruit Sam Kasiano due to an ankle injury, Leeds are lacking in the engine department, with four first choice props ruled out.

Anthony Mullally was the latest to join the casualty ward after fracturing his finger in their second game of the Super League season against Hull.

With the match usually played in the UK, Leeds coach Brian McDermott said there would be no excuses for the NRL team not performing.

"As a club we've had some success in WCC games but afterwards there's always been an element of a perceived disadvantage from the travelling team," he said.

"So for us to come over here in Melbourne's backyard and try to do it over here is a big task."

Given the timing, possible hot weather and travel, the game will be played with 12 interchanges rather than the usual eight in the NRL.