Amid the doom and gloom of a record 62-0 loss to Cronulla at Hunter Stadium on Sunday, rookie Knights halfback Jack Cogger provided some hope for the future.
Eighteen-year-old Cogger, the son of former Western Suburbs Magpies playmaker Trevor Cogger, became the 10th NRL debutant Knights coach Nathan Brown has blooded this season after NSW hopeful Trent Hodkinson was ruled out with a knee injury.
Cogger joined friend and Knights under-20s teammate Brock Lamb as the youngest halves pairing in the club’s history. In the absence of Jarrod Mullen, who is nursing a torn hamstring, 19-year-old Lamb played the second game of his NRL career after making his debut against Sydney Roosters last round.
Lamb and Cogger surpassed Mullen and Luke Walsh, who were both 20 when they teamed up against Canberra in 2007, as Newcastle’s youngest scrum-base duo.
“They both played at the line and they both played straight, which I think is good,” Brown said of his rookie halves after the 62-0 loss.
“Certainly when they get the ball in their hand, they’re not frightened to go near the line.
“They play nice and straight and they play short, which is a bit of a lost art for a lot of young halves, so I was really happy with their contribution.
“There’s going to be things they look at which they’d like to do better but as a whole, they did some really, really good stuff out there with the ball in their hand.”
When left winger Nathan Ross suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up, 18-year-old Cory Denniss became the seventh player aged 20 or younger in Newcastle’s starting side against the Sharks.
Denniss joined Cogger, Lamb, Sione Matautia (19), 20-year-old twins Jacob and Daniel Saifiti and hooker Danny Levi (19) in one of the youngest teams the Knights have fielded.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, who played alongside Trevor Cogger at the Magpies, predicted brighter days for Jack Cogger, Lamb and the other young Knights.
“From where I was watching, they tried really hard and they got their shapes on and did a reasonable job,” Flanagan said.
“The speed of the NRL, to get their kicks in, it’s another level.
“I played with young Cogger’s old man and he’s going to be a good player, and so is the other half.
“They’re probably playing before their time, but Newcastle have got two good young kids there.
“Playing off the back of a forward pack that wasn’t going forward today was really hard for them, so they’ll learn from that and I encourage them to stick with it because they’ll have a real good career, those two kids.”