Knights defence key to NRL finals charge

Newcastle's defence will need to tighten up if they are to contend in the NRL finals.
Newcastle's defence will need to tighten up if they are to contend in the NRL finals.

Newcastle's Sione Mata'utia admits the Knights are making life pretty tough for their NRL coach Adam O'Brien.

While they've secured their first NRL finals berth in seven years, the Knights know they need to shore up their defence for it to last longer than a week.

They leaked 78 points in two recent losses but can make amends on Sunday against St George Illawarra at McDonald Jones Stadium.

They are still a chance of finishing as high as fifth to earn a home final.

"When you pour in 70 points like that it definitely starts with our defence," Mata'utia said.

"It's been up and down and we're just trying to find some consistency there and find a better connection.

"We want to have two good wins leading into finals to build some momentum."

With O'Brien joining the Knights this year after learning his trade under defence-oriented coaches Trent Robinson and Craig Bellamy, Mata'utia said the team's recent efforts had been hard to swallow.

"He's definitely defence-minded and he takes a lot of pride in that and it was one of the focuses when he arrived here so I'd say he'd take it pretty hard," he said.

"And especially 'cause he knows we can do a lot better job."

Named on the bench against the Dragons, Mata'utia is returning from six weeks out after ankle surgery and was excited to get some game time under his belt before the finals.

Despite being just 24 he's the club's longest serving player, with 120 games.

"It's been a tough road and plenty of lessons learnt but good to finally say that I can hopefully play finals footy," he said.

"There's a bit of excitement around the club.

"We want to have a good performance to let the people know that we're ready for finals and are coming in with good form.

"We owe it to the fans and ourselves."

Australian Associated Press