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Alex McKinnon vs Panthers

Ball control has been the buzzword at Knights training this week after handling errors riddled the Club's opening round performance against Penrith. 

The men in red and blue normally pride themselves on their mistake-free game and high completion rate, but this wasn't the case against the Panthers with 11 errors in the first half alone. 

In the lead-up to Sunday's home game against Canberra though, forward Alex McKinnon says the team are fully focused on improved field possession.  

"I think it’s any coaches concern when you drop that much ball, because I think last year we had one of the highest completion rates," McKinnon said.

"Through injuries and a lot of drop ball in that first half, we didn’t really give ourselves a chance to win the game.

"We spoke about ball control before round one and through the trials.

"So if we have ball control and make less errors, then we will go a long way to be at least being in the competition.

"We’ve just got to move forward from that game and start our season in round two.

"But it’s one game and we’ve just got to start well and hold the ball.

"I’m sure we will come out nice and hard (against Canberra) and ready to play."

As much as the Penrith loss hurt Newcastle on the scoreboard and with injuries, McKinnon insists the team has remained positive.

He believes coach Wayne Bennett's man management has been a big part of that strong belief. 

"We’ve got a great side at the Knights and I think that’s one thing that Wayne does bring," he says.

"He brings a lot of senior players and quality players.

"So we’ve got a lot of confidence in our team and we just had a little hiccup in the start to our season, but I’m really looking forward to this weekend."

McKinnon started in his usual position in the forwards against Penrith last weekend, but ended up playing five-eighth and centre due to injuries to Kurt Gidley, Darius Boyd and Tyrone Roberts.   

The 22-year-old says he is more than happy to cover any setbacks, but hopes he can return to the forwards against Canberra on Sunday.  

“I always know I’ve played a few positions when I’m sitting next to the scrum,” he jokes

“So it’s usually at the third change when I sit at halfback.

"But that’s all right. As I said to Wayne, I’m here for the team.

"Ideally I wouldn’t like to play three positions, but the Panthers match wasn’t an ideal game and I had to do what I could for the team."

Newcastle won their most recent clash against Canberra, a 34-14 trial win in Tamworth in late February, but McKinnon admits this result counts for little heading into a regular round fixture.

He also knows his side need to gain some early season momentum to build a successful campaign.  

"I suppose it shows you what they’ve got for this year in their squad," he says.

"It doesn’t give us two points at the end of the day, so we’ve got to turn up on the weekend and put in a full performance.

"We always get a great crowd and we have great supporters at the Knights.

"It’s now round two and we need to start putting some points on the board.

"Every team likes to get a few wins before Origin and that’s what we need to do.

"If you do that it puts you in for a good ride, because you don’t want to be chasing points at the end of the season."

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