KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown defended his young halves at a media conference on Thursday but appears likely to wield the carving knife on five-eighth Brock Lamb nonetheless.
There was speculation on Thursday that Lamb, the 20-year-old from Maitland, would be dropped for Sunday’s showdown with Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium, making way for former skipper Trent Hodkinson.
Lamb and scrumbase partner Jaelen Feeney – boasting a grand tally of 29 top-grade games between them – have attracted criticism after Newcastle surrendered a 28-10 half-time lead against St George Illawarra last week to lose 32-28.
Asked about his playmakers at a promotion for match sponsor NSW Mining, Brown said it was “hard just to single them out” as the reason for his team’s second-half implosion against the Dragons.
“Could they have done a little better in certain periods of the game? Of course they could have,’’ Brown said.
“But when you’re scoring 28 [points] I think anyone’s pretty happy with your halves’ contribution.
“But just as a collective, I think we all need to get better.’’
Lamb has been a mainstay for Newcastle this season and is one of only five players to have appeared in all 14 games.
He has produced five try assists, the most by any Knight, crossed the stripe twice himself and kicked 23 goals from 27 attempts since Hodkinson was surprisingly dropped, after the 24-6 loss to Sydney Roosters in round seven.
But against the Dragons, Lamb missed five tackles and made a handling error, and it seems Brown believes he needs a break.
Hodkinson has spent the past seven weeks playing in Newcastle’s NSW Cup side, amid speculation that he might not get another chance in the top side, despite being on a contract for next season rumoured to be worth around $600,000.
Asked at last week’s post-match press conference about the possibility of recalling Hodkinson, Brown said it was not experience that cost Newcastle against the Dragons, but “the ability to lift physically and mentally, more than anything.”
He added that his halves were “outstanding” in the first half.
“As a half, you’ve got to be a threat with the ball today,’’ he said. “If you’re not a running threat, well you’re wasting your time.
“You can’t rely on just kicking to score tries, because the defences are too good.’’
Since Hodkinson’s demotion to NSW Cup, the former NSW Origin No.7 has played in five games, scoring two tries and kicking 16 goals.
His cool head and experience are likely to come in handy on Sunday, in a game that shapes as must-win if the Knights are to avoid the embarrassment of a third straight wooden spoon.
With 146 NRL games under his belt, Hodkinson is Newcastle’s most seasoned campaigner – at least until new signing Shaun Kenny-Dowall make his debut.