KNIGHTS coach Adam O'Brien has defended his team's playing style after claims from his Penrith counterpart, Ivan Cleary, that Newcastle's spoiling tactics had been at "another level" in the Panthers' 24-6 win on Thursday night.
As well as losing the penalty count 4-2, the Knights conceded eight set re-starts, including three for ruck infringements on the first tackle, prompting Cleary to claim some teams were deliberately infringing early in sets to stymie his team's dynamic attack.
"Tonight was another level again," Cleary said at the post-match press conference. "That's clearly a tactic and I think that's happening to us. The play-the-balls were so slow tonight.
"The ball in play was the most we've had in any game this year. Yet the game slowed down. That's frustrating, but that's the way teams are attacking us."
O'Brien was surprised by Cleary's public criticism but disgreed that his team were deliberately flouting the rules.
"We're disappointed that he made it about their team and what they didn't get," O'Brien said. "I thought we were pretty complimentary towards the Panthers.
"Leading into this game, we were ranked in the top one or two for effective [tackle] contact, and No.2 for third-man tackles.
"So when you're effective with your contact and you're getting numbers into your tackles, that naturally leads to slow play-the-balls.
"We focus on that. That's our style, he's got his style. It's a different style, but I'm not out there complaining about his style."
O'Brien said that after reviewing the game, he agreed that there were some slow rucks.
"But that was on the back of effective contact," he said.
"Sometimes the defence should be rewarded, if you've stuck in your contact and won the tackle.
"You don't just have to reward the attack all the time."
With regards to first-tackle infringements, O'Brien said "everyone thinks it should be a penalty", but that was a decision for the NRL.
Cleary revealed he had shared his concerns about what he believes is becoming a negative trend with NRL referees' boss Jared Maxwell.
"I've actually spoken to Jared about it," Cleary said.
"We're first in a lot of stats like tackle breaks and run metres and shifts and metres made.
"Yet we're about ninth or 10th in play-the-ball less than four seconds.
"That doesn't add up to me. I've seen a few other games too. Ball-in-play is longer, which is what we want, but the play-the-balls are slower."
Tonight was another level again. That's clearly a tactic.IVAN CLEARY
Meanwhile, O'Brien is hopeful first-team regulars Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Edrick Lee will be cleared to return from injuries against the Roosters next week.