The Cronulla Sharks may have piled 66 points on the Newcastle Knights at Cesssnock Sports Ground last weekend, but it was the home side that played themselves into a corner.
Handling errors, missing communication and a struggle to string sets together put the Knights women in the Tarsha Gale Cup on the back foot from the first quarter, even after they found the try-line to open the scoring.
After showing promise in the opening round of the season as they smashed the St George Dragons 54-10, the girls slipped with an error-prone outing against Wests Tigers in the second round.
A tightened performance against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs saw them heap 92 points on the Sydney team, but errors have again cost them.
Their second defeat was an easier pill to swallow, as the Sharks were the minor premiers in the 2017 season, and remain undefeated at the top of the table this year.
For head coach Josh Potapczyk however, the performance looked like “the girls just didn’t want to get into the game”.
“Pretty disappointed today … unfortunately our attitude just wasn’t there as a team this week, and that’s just the stark truth,” Potapczyk said.
“We had a great start and were really enthusiastic from opening kick-off but we switched off after we thought the game was going to take care of itself.
“We have to be a bit mentally tougher, we have to take tries against us and refocus, get our minds back on the job and get back into the contest.”
It was the attacking pedigree of the Sharks that decided the match after the Knights’ heads dropped, with travelling left centre Faith Nathan bagging a first-half hat-trick.
She crowned the 12-try haul with a late try to send her to the top of the tryscoring table, and sealed Newcastle’s fate.
Problems continued for the Knights with an injury to key centre Skye Pullman, who was carried from the field late in the second half.
“Unfortunately she’s picked up an injury at the end, but she was trying really hard out there and things just didn’t go her way,” Potapczyk said.
“If you lose a player like that – one of our top strike players – it will have an impact.
“There’s every reason now for another girl to step up, and for them to fill the hole. We’ve talked from the start of preseason about being a squad, and that each person has a role to play. This is someone else’s opportunity to step in and fill the breach.”
Pullman was one of four girls who scored for the Knights, which also included Jasmin Strange, Shenay Ball and Eli Russell’s third minute strike.
Discipline after conceding will be the key focus in coming weeks, Potapczyk revealed, and pointed to the difficulty they faced getting back into the contest.
“I need to challenge them, when things aren’t going well, to be tough enough to ride out the storm and ride out that momentum shift that the opposition has,” he said.
“To not concede points every set is something we need to improve, when tries get scored heads drop and we’re not willing to do the hard yards to get ourselves back into the game.
“When things are going well we play up-tempo with a lot of energy and that needs to happen whether the ball is going in our favour or not.”
The Knights now take to the road for the coming weeks, playing at St Marys League Stadium against defending premiers Penrith Panthers next weekend.
After the marquee match-up, the Knights will have the bye, before playing the Steelers at Collegians Sporting Complex on March 24, and returning home against the Rabbitohs on Easter Saturday.
First published as: Tough battle in Cessnock for Knights