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Newcastle now half the side we knew

The Newcastle Knights’ slide from first to ninth on the NRL ladder in the space of four weeks has stressed the importance of a dominant halves pairing.

Undefeated after four rounds, an analysis of Newcastle’s performance in 2015 shows that the decline in performance is due to diminishing returns in attack.

It is a development that highlights the importance of having a six and seven in a football side that can run the show in attack.

Now without chief playmaker Jarrod Mullen, the Knights’ situation has reached breaking point with the red and blue riding a four game losing streak.

With Coach Rick Stone suggesting that changes could soon be made, Knights half Tyrone Roberts could be the first on the chopping block.

Roberts has laid on just one try assist in eight games, nowhere near close enough to be included in the competition’s top twenty – fifteen of whom are halves.

Two of the top three are North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston and Roosters number seven Mitchell Pearce, both players that will likely play a role in this year’s State of Origin series.

Pearce’s Roosters partner and NSW Country captain James Maloney sits at number five.

Maloney again features in Most Line-Break Assists at number two, with incumbent Australian five-eighth Thurston coming in at third.

Newcastle’s dwindling completion rates have coupled with an increase in handling errors, leading to a decrease in run metres, line breaks, offloads, and kick metres.

Roberts has lacked composure in moments where a cool head is needed – something that players like Thurston and Pearce have in spades.

Constantly in the past month the Knights’ last tackle options have seen the ball thrown to ground before the likes of front rower Kade Snowden are forced to put it on the boot.

Thurston and Pearce are ranked fourth and fifth respectively for kicks in play, with Roberts coming in at eighteenth.

Thurston’s kicking game is a class above that of most other players. It is an area of Roberts’ game that needs improvement.

Stone could potentially shift skipper Kurt Gidley from fullback in to the halves to partner Mullen when he returns.

Roberts would come off the bench in a dummy half role – but would have to oust a specialist hooker.

It’s not an entirely foreign concept – former coach Wayne Bennett used the same tactic in 2014.

In place for four rounds, the ploy produced a 75 per cent winning record, compared to 42 per cent from seven games this season when Roberts starts at half.

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