A nothing-to-lose attitude is what could drive the Knights
past the Roosters and into a grand final showdown with Manly, according to two
of Newcastle’s former premiership winners.
Just six wins from the opening 14 rounds of 2013 ensured the
Knights were always going to be seen as premiership pretenders – and, following
an eight-from-13 resurgence, including four consecutive victories, Marc
Glanville and Michael Hagan believe that poor start and associated ‘underdogs’
tag could prove their greatest asset.
“They were battling just to make the eight let alone
anything else,” 1997 premiership-winning forward Glanville tells NRL.com ahead
of the Knights’ grand final qualifying clash with the Roosters on Saturday
“Their season was a bit up and down and players that signed,
they were obviously a lot older and more experienced, but there were a couple
of times during the year where everyone thought they were no chance of making
the eight. They’ve been on a roll, got into the eight and they’ve got a fair
bit of momentum going – I guess that’s what you need going into semi-finals.
“I think they’re a big chance. They’ve got a wealth of
experience, a heap of momentum and the belief they would have got from beating
Melbourne last week and Canterbury the week before would have helped them
immensely. “Sometimes a week off is a good thing but at other stages it isn’t,
and I think up against the Knights, the Roosters are in for a very big
challenge on [Saturday] night.”
Hagan, coach of Newcastle’s 2001 title triumph against
Parramatta, says the club has already exceeded expectations – but nevertheless insists
they’re very capable of proceeding to the grand final.
“If they would’ve said top eight was their aspiration
initially I think that’s about what they were hoping to achieve but I think the
fact they are now a game away from the grand final I think that’s exceeded my
expectation but not theirs,” Hagan says.
“The mindset in Newcastle is if you’re thereabouts you can
go a bit further and I think that’s how the team and the coach are approaching
the last couple of weeks of the year – I think that belief and that bit of
momentum is in their favour at the moment.
“I really hope they can. They’re coming up against a real
quality side in the Roosters but if they get through I think they’ve got the
game plan and team to go further if they were to get there.”
Both Glanville and Hagan agree the key to progression into
the decider rests in the hands of the Knights’ experienced pack.
“I just love how Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott play but for me
the unsung hero all year’s been Robbie Rochow – he’s played just about every
week, just about 80 minutes a week and he’s been terrific for the club,”
“They’ve got a wealth of experience going into the team… and
I really think they’re going to try to win it for Danny Buderus.
“The fact they’ve got Buderus, he’s such a wonderful leader
and a magnificent player – they go so much better when he’s on the paddock.”
Hagan, assistant coach of the all-conquering Queensland
Maroons side, believes if Newcastle progress it will be the Knights’ pack that
ultimately shuts down the playmaking dangers of Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce
and James Maloney.
“[Pearce and Maloney] had a benefit of a really good
platform to work behind and that’s the thing that Newcastle need to get right –
you’re coming up against the most physical side that’s left in the comp and
that’s where they need to be really good [tonight], trying to limit their space
so if they can do that I think that’ll go a long way to limiting their
influence,” Hagan says.
“They’ve been really good in the past six or eight weeks
since Origin too – they seem to have found another gear and it’ll be hard to
keep an eye on them all the time and I just that’s the challenge of facing
Hagan, however, stressed no single player would prove the
difference for the Knights – he says it’s the unified front that’ll help
Newcastle in their quest to overcome the Roosters.
“[Newcastle] really want to win for each other, and that’s
the most important part. Within the team I don’t think there are individuals –
they are a team of great players,” Hagan says.
“They seem to be playing as a team across the board –
looking at their starting team and bench, they seem to be coming into the game
and holding their own and having an impact… the fact they’re working for each
other seems to be a noticeable thing too.
“It should be a great game.”