Gallen praises rejuvenated Knights in NRL

Cronulla's Paul Gallen (L) has praised Newcastle, saying they have a different look this NRL season.
Cronulla's Paul Gallen (L) has praised Newcastle, saying they have a different look this NRL season.

Eighteen months after declaring Newcastle were set for a long stint in the premiership wilderness and igniting a war of words with Nathan Brown, Paul Gallen has paid tribute to the rejuvenated Knights.

After his side's NRL season-opening victory over the Sharks, Brown said he hoped the Cronulla skipper had changed his tune about the Hunter outfit.

When Mitchell Pearce walked out on the Sydney Roosters in late 2017 after Cooper Cronk's signing, the No.7 declined an offer from Cronulla and opted to be the face of the Knights' rebuild.

It prompted Gallen to say he feared it would be the end of Pearce's representative career and that it would take two to three years for the Knights to return to the top eight.

Gallen and Brown subsequently traded barbs through the media as the Knights' coach defended his side.

Just a season later and the Knights are shaping as a genuine top-eight force if their Edrick Lee-inspired win over the Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night is anything to go by.

And Gallen said they were a different outfit to the one who had been the easybeats of the competition for several years.

"It's a massively different side ... But let's be honest - they won three wooden spoons in a row for a reason. They've recruited enormously well with guys like Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer," Gallen said.

"They're not my concern but you've got to give them credit for the way they played tonight. They hung in there; they completed well; they built pressure on us."

Gallen said the Knights strangled his team out of the game, pointing to the fact they completed at 78 per cent compared to the Sharks' 63 per cent.

Ex-Sharks winger Lee, playing his first game against his former side, was the hero for Newcastle, pulling off three try-saving tackles and running 85 metres for the game-winning intercept try.

However, it was ex-Canterbury prop David Klemmer who laid the foundation, running for 186m and giving the side the kind of punch they hadn't had for a long time.

"That's pretty standard for him," Gallen said of his former NSW Blues teammate.

"He's one of the best front-rowers in the game. He's made a huge difference to their team and we knew that.

"Nothing came at us that we didn't know was coming. He does that week in and week out - he's a big plus for their team."

Australian Associated Press