Newcastle Knights are conceding more points and scoring fewer, than they did in 2017

THEY are the statistics that will leave Newcastle Knights fans with an unwelcome sense of deja vu.

Halfway into their 2018 campaign, the Knights have already won as many games (five) as they did over the entire duration of last season.

But in terms of points scored and conceded, on both counts their average tallies have somehow deteriorated since last season, despite the spending spree that bolstered Newcastle’s squad at the end of 2017.

Last year the Knights were the worst defensive team in the NRL, conceding 648 points in 24 games, at an average of 27 points each week.

After 12 games this season, they have again conceded the most points in the competition, 342 at an average of 28.5. That is despite the acquisition of defensive workhorses Aidan Guerra and Slade Griffin, as well as proven front-rowers Herman Ese’ese, Jacob Lillyman and Chris Heighington.

Likewise, Newcastle have been unable to deliver the improvement expected in their attack.

Last year they scored 428 points at an average of 17.8 per game. This year they have 210 points on the board, at 17.5 per game.

Last season they finished with the NRL’s worst points differential of minus-220 (minus-9.1 per game).

This year they are again unwilling owners of the largest negative differential with minus-132 points, at minus-11 per game.

After an impressive start to the season that yielded five wins from their first eight games, the Knights have experienced a reality check since losing skipper Mitchell Pearce to a torn pectoral, suffering consecutive losses to South Sydney, Penrith, Gold Coast and Cronulla and leaking 146 points in the process.

On Saturday they face last-placed Parramatta at ANZ Stadium in a game that shapes as the crossroads of their season.

Having slipped four points behind the top eight, a win against the Eels would keep their hopes of featuring in the play-offs flickering.

A loss would leave them at a low ebb before back-to-back home games against the Roosters and Storm, and potentially raise the spectre of a fourth straight wooden spoon.

“It’s been tough, the last few years, but I think we’ve got the side here, and the quality of players in the side, to change things around,” back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon said on Monday.

“But we need to do change quickly. We don’t want to go five losses in a row. That would be devastating.

“It’s about banding together and sticking together, and on Saturday night putting in a much better performance.”

Fitzgibbon said the clash with Parramatta was “must-win” if Newcastle hope to challenge for a top-eight finish.

“If we can string a few wins together in this middle half of the year and we get a couple of boys back, hopefully ‘Junior’ [Pearce] … can steer us around and we get some wins at the back end of the year,” he said.

“We’re still confident we can be in the eight. It only takes one game to turn our season around.”

Front-rower Daniel Saifiti, one of the few Knights to play strongly against Cronulla, said Sunday’s 48-10 hammering was “pretty embarrassing, to be honest”.

Saifiti said the loss felt “10 times worse” than the 62-0 slaughter against Cronulla in 2016. “We’ve got to show some resilience and come back, and this is the time to do it, against Parra this week,” he said.

Saifiti had no doubt the Knights were more capable of bouncing back from adversity than during his two previous seasons in the NRL.

“We’re definitely better,” he said. “We’ve shown it this season. We might not have showed that on the weekend, but we’re confident as a playing group we can turn it around.” 

Saifiti said memories of last year’s 29-10 win against the Eels at ANZ would provide Newcastle with cause for optimism.

The Eels are expected to welcome back Jarryd Hayne from a hip injury.

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