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Knights coach Adam O'Brien is going to be spending a large chunk of his off-season working out how to relieve the attacking pressure on his skipper Mitchell Pearce.

Newcastle started the year with back-to-back wins. Even after the COVID-19 break they were undefeated after four rounds with a draw against Penrith and a win over Canberra.

But then the injuries to hooker and five-eighth began and didn't stop. And the inconsistency crept in.

O'Brien said that up-and-down form was evident in their last game of the season – losing the elimination final to the Rabbitohs 46-20.

After jumping out to a 14-0 lead after 11 minutes, the Knights didn't score again for the next 68 minutes – a Hymel Hunt consolation try came just seconds before the full-time hooter.

Get Caught Up: Finals Week 1

O'Brien was a cocktail of emotions in the post-match media conference but one thing was clear in his mind – release Pearce in part from having to be the entire creative genius each week.

"I thought the way we started the season over the first two rounds we looked really free and connected," O'Brien said.

"Then losing [hooker] Jayden Brailey was a huge loss for us. Kurt [Mann] and Junior [Pearce] looked on top of everything and knew what they were doing."

Knights: Finals Week 1

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But after Brailey (knee) came Andrew McCullough (hamstring) and Connor Watson (Achilles) all dropping in and out of the No.9 role.

It finally came to Kurt Mann to move across to hooker from No.6 and even his replacement in Blake Green (knee) caught the injury curse.

"This bloke [Pearce], that's who it hurt the most," O'Brien said. "He had a different No.9 each week, or a different No.6 and they had different skill sets so that put more pressure on him to run the team.

"That's one thing I've got to identify over the summer is our best attack and how we can get our strike players to get the ball in good positions to help Junior out."

Pearce agreed it wasn't always easy to adjust to the near-weekly change in combinations.

"The attack stuff we can really work hard on and improve over the off-season," Pearce said, before returning the praise to O'Brien.

"It was an inconsistent year but Adz deserves a big rap. He's a first-time head coach and gets the Knights in a final.

"He's changed the whole culture in a short period of time. We hadn't been in the finals since 2013 … he's one of the best coaches I've had and I think he deserves a big thank you.

"He kept us optimistic all year regardless of what was going on. There's plenty of things to improve on going forward but we've got a really strong foundation here at the club."

Guerra converts from the sideline to end his career

For now it's time to lick a few wounds, drown a few sorrows after South Sydney ran over the top of them in the second half at ANZ Stadium.

"I don't think they deserved that scoreline in terms of their effort tonight. They tried their backsides off – and they've done that all year," O'Brien said, although losing eight tries to three in their final game didn't help anyone's mood.

"It's hard for me now [to reflect] because it hurts. But we've gone through a lot as a group this season – but we've managed to keep picking ourselves up."