Melbourne and Penrith, take note
The two sides earnt this weekend off by winning their first finals games this season, but as Matty Johns remembers, sometimes having too much time to think can derail a premiership campaign.
Reminiscing about the Knights’ 2000 season, the former Newcastle star revealed how a lengthy break ended up crushing their dreams of a grand final appearance as the players and coach Warren Ryan started to overthink things.
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Fresh off a convincing win over the Storm in week one of the finals, the Knights tinkered with their defence. Having defended inside-out all season — holding and waiting to react to what the opposition was doing — the Knights suddenly decided to become an outside-in team, where the wingers were encouraged to rush infield to put an end to attacking raids.
“Suddenly we get the week off and during that week off we started to change things that didn’t need changing,” Matty said on The Matty Johns Podcast during the week. “And one of the things we changed was our defensive pattern.
“We went from being a side that would go up, hold and defend inside-out — the week after we decided during the break that we’d defend more aggressively.
“The instruction to the wingers was … if you think you can snuff it outside-in, then we do it.”
When Newcastle returned to the field against the Roosters in the preliminary final, the new system looked like it was working a treat. The Knights dominated the first half so comprehensively champion halfback Andrew Johns was already looking ahead to the grand final, sledging Roosters forward Luke Ricketson at the break.
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Joey got a little too cocky.Source:News Corp Australia
But Joey’s trash talk came back to bite him as Brad Fittler and Co. cottoned on to Newcastle’s new approach in the second stanza.
“We play the first half against the Roosters, I think we were leading 16-2, and I remember walking up the tunnel honestly thinking to myself, ‘We’re going to win this by 40 points’,” Matty said.
“Joey said to Ricko, ‘Mate, get ready for f***ing Mad Monday.
“What had happened in the Roosters sheds, (coach) Graham Murray had picked up that we’re just defending outside-in, we’re pre-empting. Our wingers are coming outside-in, just blindly.
“So he and Freddy (Fittler) had worked it out and in the second half, what was working for us didn’t (work anymore) because he was just catching the ball and throwing double cut-out (passes to get past the wingers rushing in).
“That was a really big lesson.”
Fittler inspired a Roosters comeback and the tri-colours beat the Knights 26-20 to book their place in the decider, where they lost to the Broncos.
Fortunately for the Knights they learnt from their mistake and made sure not to repeat it the following year, as Joey led his team to the 2001 premiership by beating Parramatta in the big dance.
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