Photos | Cronulla coach John Morris rues missed opportunities as Sharks fall 14-8 to Newcastle Knights

Sharks coach John Morris was left to rue a number of missed opportunities for Cronulla in their six-point loss to Newcastle in their season opener on Friday night.

On a windy night at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, the Sharks went down 14-8 to the new-look Knights, Cronulla's sixth-straight season opening defeat.

The Sharks had beaten Newcastle in their previous eight matches including their last four visits to the Hunter. Cronulla also thrashed the Knights in their pre-season trial at Maitland a fortnight ago.

But the Sharks lacked the same sharpness and polish in attack as they did in the trial, making a number of handling errors against the much-improved Knights

When they did create chances they mostly failed to take them. 

Morris, who was making his NRL debut as a head coach after replacing the deregistered Shane Flanagan during the off-season, also handed debuts to the excellent Briton Nikora and Blayke Brailey.

But the former 300-game player was left disappointed after his side failed to make the most of their opportunities against the Knights and refused to blame his new-look spine with Matt Moylan's shift to fullback and the signing of Shaun Johnson at five-eighth having lost Valentine Holmes over the summer.

"[We lost it] with our ball handling. I said to the boys just then you can't expect to win any game of footy making 12 errors," he said.

"We completed at about 65 per cent. It was our focus going into the game. We spoke about it all week actually, just making sure we hang onto the footy. Playing quite simple and getting through our sets. We put too much pressure on ourselves. 

"I think it wasn't just the errors but the tackle it happened on too. We had two [errors] off a scrum, didn't field a kick-off. There's 18 plays we just threw straight in the bin. We just couldn't mount the pressure we came here to do. Newcastle turned up and stayed in the fight and played quite well.

"Those errors, even Gal's drop at the end there, were uncharacteristic. It wasn't so much a structural thing or players in different positions. Individually it was just blokes dropping the footy. 

"But in saying that I thought we created a lot more opportunities than Newcastle did. We just couldn't finish them. We had four or five dead set missed opportunities, a couple down the right in the first half with Josh Dugan and Sione Katoa."

Morris said he disagreed with the decision to disallow Dugan's try early after half-time after a scoreless first half, with Katoa ruled to have deliberately tapped the ball over Knights fullback Connor Watson's head before regaining and passing to Dugan to score.

But Morris was delighted with Cronulla's defensive effort, especially in the first half, with the only tries the Sharks conceded from a sharp Mitchell Pearce short pass with 11 minutes to play and an Edrick Lee intercept late on.

"They're a tough bunch and they'll defend all day if they have to. But sometimes that's our biggest downfall because we put the pumpkins on in attack and we're just happy to defend our line all game," he said.

"I think they had twice the amount of good ball than we did. But we defended our line, we were brave, we turned them away and found a way to keep saving tries. They only got us on that one try on the back end of a missed opportunity at one end. They came back down and [Tim] Glasby got us, we probably could have done better on that one.

"It was a great sign. The boys worked their socks off. I thought they turned up with a good attitude. They were ready for the physicality of it. We knew the Knights were going to be real physical. I thought we controlled Kalyn [Ponga] and Pearce pretty good. 

"I was impressed with our defence but it just wasn't to be for us today."

The Sharks will look to regroup quickly as they host Gold Coast in round two next Saturday. It will be Cronulla's only home game at Shark Park in the first month of the season.

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