The Newcastle Knights have a bit of work to do in the next fortnight if they’re to launch a serious challenge on the Telstra Premiership in 2021.
The Novocastrians suffered a resounding 30-10 loss to defending premiers Melbourne Storm in their trial at Albury at the weekend.
And, while it was only a provisional hit-out for the clubs, coach Adam O’Brien – who recently signed a two-year contract extension with the organisation – will now focus his attention on preparing his chargers for round one on Friday 12 March.
The Knights tackle the Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL opener at McDonald Jones Stadium from 6pm.
The new-look Bulldogs, under the guidance of Trent Barrett, will be no pushover either, after they accounted for the Cronulla Sharks 16-12 on Saturday.
At Albury, it was all the Storm from the outset, with the 2020 champions dominating possession in a first half where the Knights struggled with their completion rates.
Boasting nearly their strongest possible line-up, including Origin stars Cameron Munster and Harry Grant, Melbourne almost crossed in the opening minutes when Josh Addo-Carr was denied by the touch judge for placing a foot on the line.
The Knights were limited to just one real opportunity, with Bradman Best going close.
What followed was a brutal 20 minutes of football, with Newcastle recruits Tyson Frizell and Sauaso Sue providing strong first outings for the club in what fast became a battle of the engine rooms.
While the Knights fought hard, Melbourne’s class shined through, with Dean Ieremia and Jahrome Hughes touching down.
A clever Grant grubber near the break found Nelson Asofa-Solomona, leaving Newcastle with a huge mountain to climb in the second half.
It was a similar story after the interval, with the Storm adding further points through Felise Kaufusi and Reimus Smith.
Substitute Dylan Lucas added the Knights only four-pointer in the 63rd minute, completing a sharp move on the right edge, while Dom Young crossed for his second try in as many weeks on full-time.
It was improved second half by Newcastle, who took the field after the break without the likes of Mitchell Pearce, Jayden Brailey and Frizell.
However, the more-experienced Storm outfit still proved too strong in front of about 4000 fans in the border-town.
- with Zac Nissen