Emotional night: Tigers players remember Mosese Fotuaika before kick-off. Photo: Max Mason Hubers   Asked what he would offer to the debutant Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter, the 658-match veteran Wayne Bennett, thought for a moment, smiled slightly and uttered: “Welcome.” Bennett’s Newcastle Knights had dished up a lesson for Potter’s Tigers, and the newcomer to the premiership was scratching for positives.
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He found some. Potter, and Tigers captain Robbie Farah, would prefer to be talking about such a performance in round one than late in the season, but the hooker acknowledged his disappointment.

“We need hard work [to turn it around],” said Farah. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can turn it around, and we’ll stick together to turn it around. It’s a long year. The good thing is, we’ve got time. We’ve got next week.

“But we can’t make a habit of that. We need to turn things around quick, or otherwise it’s going to be a long year for us. We’ll work hard and we’ll stick together and we’ll be better than we were [on Monday] night.” Added Potter: “It was disappointing. In a lot of areas, we could have done better, but the scoreline doesn’t read very well. I thought early, everything was going to plan, but we just slowly deteriorated. We came up with errors and we came up with some silly errors, and conceded a lot of possession. We need to fix up some areas in defence as well.

“We’re looking to rectify what we did. The season’s not over in round one.” Potter, who took over from another veteran in Tim Sheens, maintained the squad had “no excuses”, even though the club only days earlier farewelled clubmate Mosese Fotuaika. “How unlikely it is, it’s part of life that things occur – you get on with it, and you try to put it at the back of your head,” he said. “But there’s no excuses. We were out there to play rugby league. The players tried to give the best account of themselves, and I don’t think as a group we performed to our best.” That, of course, was an understatement. Bennett, meanwhile, is never one to be overstating things, but his team produced a performance of note from the opening weekend. Even if he denied the Knights, who were disappointing in their first season under the coach last year, had made a “statement” through the win.

“Not yet,” Bennett mused. “There’ll be some people looking over their shoulders, but we haven’t made a statement.” If they can add consistency to the ability they showed against the Tigers, five-eighth Jarrod Mullen and fullback Darius Boyd will ensure the Knights are a potent squad. Centre Dane Gagai, with two tries, and winger Akuila Uate, were hard to stop.

“I didn’t have any great expectations except [for us to] play well, and we played well, so we got some rewards,” Bennett said. “But what starts off in March doesn’t really equate to what’s going to finish up in September.

“I’ve seen teams go off on day one and look like … ‘how are you going to beat them?’ and by the end of the season, they haven’t even made the eight. There’s a lot out there in front of us, for all of us.” Mullen left the field late in the second half, and was icing his wrist, but Bennett maintained he took the playmaker off the field as a precaution only. “It’s a long season in front of us,” Bennett said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.