A DAUNTING schedule of six away games in the space of seven weeks should ensure the Newcastle Knights re-focus promptly after the euphoria of Friday’s season-opening win against Manly.
Starting with their round-two fixture in Canberra on Sunday, Newcastle face three consecutive road trips to tackle the Raiders, Roosters (at Allianz Stadium) and St George Illawarra (at WIN Stadium). They then host Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium, before another block of three away games against Melbourne, Wests Tigers and Manly.
No other team in the NRL has so few home games over the first third of the season.
While Knights coach Nathan Brown said his new-look squad would take confidence from their memorable golden-point win against the Sea Eagles, in front of a 23,516-strong crowd, he was realistic about the challenge they would face in the next two months.
“It’s going to get a lot harder for us, there’s no doubt,” Brown said.
“But in saying that it’s going to get a lot harder for us, I’d like to think that as a team every week we play, we’ll get better, as well … it’s going to be a hard competition.
“What we need to do is be excited and be happy that we had a win.
“We’ve only just come together. But we’ve got to be mindful that we’ve got to get a lot better too, or else if we don’t keep improving, we’ll get our share of losses again.”
Brown will be hoping the nine off-season imports who debuted in the win against Manly will ensure the Knights are more competitive in enemy territory than they have been in recent times.
The three-time wooden spooners have won only one of their past 25 away games, against Parramatta in round 23 last season.
Since their inception in 1988, Newcastle have won only five of 26 matches in Canberra and have lost lost their past three away games against the Raiders, who Brown described as “the unluckiest side in the comp” last season.
“They’re all looking fit and mean and lean, so we’re going to be up against a very good side next week in Canberra,” Brown said.
He had no doubt the Knights could play better than they did in beating Manly. “At times our attack wasn’t smooth, but at times we looked really good,” Brown said. “I’d like to think that we can certainly build on it and take some confidence and move forward.”
Brown’s thoughts were echoed by skipper Mitchell Pearce.
“As a halfback, I’m thinking exactly what Browny is thinking,” Pearce said.
“We’ve got some things to work on. It’s a long year, and I thought parts of our attack were a bit scrappy, so I think from a halfback’s point of view, it’s a great feeling, but I’m thinking how can we get better for next week.”