Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has leapt to the defence of his under-fire halfback Mitchell Pearce, suggesting the Knights looked clueless without him on the field against Manly after he was forced off late in the game last weekend with concussion.
Brown and Pearce have been the major targets for much of the criticism stemming from the side's inauspicious start to the season that has yielded just one win from their opening five matches following a strong recruitment drive that brought with it plenty of expectation.
Mitchell Pearce: In every game, there are moments you want to take back
But while the Knights captain's form has been down on the high standards he set last season, Brown claims Pearce's importance to the team was borne out by the way they performed without him in the final 12 minutes against the Sea Eagles after he was concussed by a high shot from Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake.
"There's a number of people being reasonably critical of Mitchell's form but when he did go off the field, we looked like we didn't have a coach or anyone that had ever learnt how to play rugby league before," Brown said.
"They had 12 [players after Fonua-Blake was sin-binned] and we had 13 and we didn't know how to play without him. That really exposed how important Mitchell is to the team and his organisational ability.
"But it also exposed that KP [Kalyn Ponga] needs to take a little more responsibility and add some growth to his game. It also showed that whether it is Mason [Lino] or whether it's Connor [Watson] , they need to take a little more responsibility and that will help ease a little bit of the burden on Mitchell."
The Knights will be desperate to end a four game losing streak when they meet the Titans on the Gold Coast on Sunday to ease some early-season pressure.
But Brown said the heat on himself comes with the territory when you are an NRL coach.
"There are four or five of us coaches who are all on one win, and with that mounts pressure," Brown said.
"That's the nature of the job that we sign up for and you've got to accept that. The criticism is not personal, it's just what happens when you're losing games as a rugby league coach.
"We know as a club and a team we're very close and we could have quite easily won another one or two games and the scoreboard looks a lot better. But the reality is we didn't so with that comes a kick up the bum."
Asked how secure he felt in the job, Brown said: "You don't look at that sort of stuff.
"I have been coaching for ages and I don't think any coach comes into the season saying they hope they get the bullet. You've just got to believe in what you're doing.
"I've been around long enough to know we've got a lot of good things happening and we've got one or two things happening that we need to do a touch better."
Sport: Newcastle Knights
Brown believes his side learnt a tough lesson out of the loss to Manly about where their intensity levels need to be.
"The first month of footy, we seemed to get our starts to games pretty good and we were either leading or just behind after 20 or 30 minutes. But we certainly got it wrong on the weekend," he said.
"I'm not so sure it was anything that was done at training. It was more an attitude type of thing and that 15 minute period was really disappointing.
"Manly won it in that period and we lost it in that period and I wouldn't like to think we will see a start like that for a fair while again.
"What the playing group has learnt is if they are a little bit off, it's a tough competition and we've lost numbers of close games now and we've been in a position in all of them to do reasonably well."