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With the nib Newcastle Knights’ final bye week of the season, coach Nathan Brown says the added time off has allowed coaching staff to measure some facets of player performance.

“There has been a fair bit of testing in conditioning on the field and strength in the gym to see where they’re all at compared to earlier in the year,” Brown explained this week.

“We have looked at areas of our game where we know we need to improve and we’ve really worked hard in those areas.”

Brown says while the squad as a whole has managed to maintain strength levels, some players have even been able to improve during the season.

With the season so demanding on a physical level, usually the goal is just to try and maintain levels achieved in the pre-season.

“With the age and training inexperience we’ve got, we’ve had a lot of players who have improved their strength during the year which is quite uncommon,” the coach explained.

“Some of the players have better fitness results to what they were at the end of the pre-season and a lot of our players have improved in the gym which is great.”

While the results aren’t translating to wins, Brown acknowledges clear improvement in his young squad.

“The ladder probably doesn’t show our improvement,” he said.

“We have had a lot of close losses and a lot of games where we’ve led at halftime.

“That can be a combination of just losing, being not quite good enough at times, a bit of bad luck, not getting the rub of the green or taking the opportunity.

“When we get the basics right for 80 minutes, I think we’ll see a couple more wins come our way.”

Utility back Dane Gagai is again away with the Queensland Origin team for game two next Wednesday night at ANZ Stadium.

The coach is confident that Gagai will once again be able to back up for their clash against the St George Illawarra Dragons next Sunday.

“Gags generally backs up,” Brown said.

“He generally does play well and he was near enough their best player in the last game so hopefully he goes out there puts in a good performance and backs up for us.”

And the former Dragon is under no illusions about how tough the Club’s Round 16 match against his old team will be.

“All the games are hard at the moment but the Dragons are certainly one of the tougher ones in that top four or five teams of the competition,” Brown said.

“The forward pack has done an extremely good job for them and off the back of that we’ve seen Gareth Widdop probably get back to where his form was a couple of years ago.

“They have a really well balanced, experienced forward pack with a combination of blokes that have some good footwork.”