Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce.

Turns out Mitchell Pearce was more than happy to be part of the supporting cast rather than one of the stars of Newcastle's gritty 14-8 victory over Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium last Friday.

Prop David Klemmer and winger Edrick Lee, two of seven round-one Knights debutants, attracted most of the headlines and attention, and rightly so.

Klemmer led the new-look Newcastle pack to a points decision over the Sharks, and Lee made several critical defensive plays including a late intercept that set up his match-winning try.

Speaking to the media after that win, Knights coach Nathan Brown said he was pleased to see his side grind out a win without Pearce or fellow playmaker Kalyn Ponga dominating proceedings.

"I agree," Pearce said after training on Monday when asked about Brown's post-match analysis.

"I thought we controlled the team well, me and Kalyn.

"I thought we found good field position on the weekend, we completed well, but we'd like to add some sequences on the back of our attack and the good go-forward. We could have probably executed a little bit better at times but some games are just rugged games of footy.

"You won't see too many games that are nil-all [at half-time]. Me and Kalyn were comfortable with our first hit-out and we'll keep building.

"I think we over-played it a bit in the trials, me and Kalyn, so we wanted to simplify our game going into round one and the game plan we set out through the coaches was pretty much how we played."

The premiership-winning former NSW halfback expected his combination with Ponga, fullback Connor Watson and hooker Danny Levi to develop as the season unfolds, but it was more important at this stage to help shape the team's evolving identity.

"It's the style of team we want to be. We've worked hard at changing our identity and we laid our first brick with the way we want to play," Pearce said.

"There's a lot of growth in us, and there'll need to be, but to play that arm-wrestle type footy and play tough and defend well, it's what we've been working at, and it was nice to see that in round one.

"Early in the season, footy's won on the back of completions and field position and your defence, so I'd much rather a performance like we had than a fair-weather game all about attack and not building pressure."

As a means to that end, Pearce said the Knights targeted players with the right attitude, not just an impressive CV or skill set, when they drew up their recruiting hit list for 2019.

Match: Knights v Sharks

Round 1 -

Full Time
Knights

Home Team

Knights

Scored 14 points
Sharks

Away Team

Sharks

Scored 8 points

Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium

Match broadcasters:

  • Foxtel
  • LIVE PASS

Apart from Klemmer, the Knights snared no-nonsense middle forwards Tim Glasby and James Gavet, and added role players and game-breakers like Lee, Jesse Ramien, Hymel Hunt and Kurt Mann.

"It's not just the players you get, it's the culture we've tried to create and changing our mentality and our attitude to our footy," Pearce said.

"You can have all the players in the world but it takes attitude to play how we did. We're trying to change our style this year and evolve into a team that can contend.

"The way we played on the weekend, the attitude we turned up with, was the right style moving forward. It's about backing that up week in, week out. We found a bit of grit and a good attitude in defence on the weekend and that's what we want to hold on to."

Only the Sea Eagles (622) conceded more points than Newcastle (607) last year.

In the three straight years they ran last, the Knights leaked more points than any other team in 2017 (622) and 2016 (772), and only the Titans (594) were more porous than Newcastle (582) in 2015.

Pearce agreed with his coach's sentiments, that to concede only a penalty try and penalty goal to the Sharks was a commendable first-up defensive effort.

"The best defence isn't always the prettiest defence," he said.

"Sometimes it's about stopping tries when there's been line breaks. Some of the better sides in defence – Melbourne, Roosters – these sort of teams over the last few years, they get broken a lot of the time but they have the ability to get people in the picture to stop tries.

"We had plenty of those sort of plays on the weekend, so there's plenty to build on."

Pearce, who won a premiership with the Roosters in 2013 and played in the team beaten by the Dragons in the 2010 grand final, laughed off suggestions of a similar campaign building in Newcastle.

"All I can say to that is, it's a good group, there's no egos and everyone's working together," he said.

"In six months' time, I hope we're sitting here saying the same thing."

Pearce said Newcastle need to play with the same "grit and toughness" against Penrith at McDonald Jones Stadium next Saturday, when he and Ponga go up against incumbent NSW halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary.

"I always love coming up against Jimmy – he's always got plenty to say," he said.

"Jimmy's a seasoned footballer and Nathan Cleary's a really good up-and-coming player and he had a good year last year. They've got two quality Origin halves and it's going to be a really good game."

Prop Daniel Saifiti is expected to be sidelined for two to four weeks after suffering knee and foot injuries against Cronulla. Herman Ese'ese is expected to take his place on the bench against Penrith.

Back-up playmaker Mason Lino is likely to return from a knee injury in the Canterbury Cup.