A nothing-to-lose attitude is what could drive the Knightspast the Roosters and into a grand final showdown with Manly, according to twoof Newcastle’s former premiership winners.
Just six wins from the opening 14 rounds of 2013 ensured theKnights were always going to be seen as premiership pretenders – and, followingan eight-from-13 resurgence, including four consecutive victories, MarcGlanville 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 aloneanything else,” 1997 premiership-winning forward Glanville tells NRL.com aheadof the Knights’ grand final qualifying clash with the Roosters on Saturdaynight.
“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 coupleof times during the year where everyone thought they were no chance of makingthe eight. They’ve been on a roll, got into the eight and they’ve got a fairbit 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 ofexperience, a heap of momentum and the belief they would have got from beatingMelbourne last week and Canterbury the week before would have helped themimmensely. “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 bigchallenge on [Saturday] night.”
Hagan, coach of Newcastle’s 2001 title triumph againstParramatta, says the club has already exceeded expectations – but nevertheless insiststhey’re very capable of proceeding to the grand final.
“If they would’ve said top eight was their aspirationinitially I think that’s about what they were hoping to achieve but I think thefact they are now a game away from the grand final I think that’s exceeded myexpectation but not theirs,” Hagan says.
“The mindset in Newcastle is if you’re thereabouts you cango a bit further and I think that’s how the team and the coach are approachingthe last couple of weeks of the year – I think that belief and that bit ofmomentum is in their favour at the moment.
“I really hope they can. They’re coming up against a realquality side in the Roosters but if they get through I think they’ve got thegame plan and team to go further if they were to get there.”
Both Glanville and Hagan agree the key to progression intothe decider rests in the hands of the Knights’ experienced pack.
“I just love how Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott play but for methe unsung hero all year’s been Robbie Rochow – he’s played just about everyweek, just about 80 minutes a week and he’s been terrific for the club,”Glanville says.
“They’ve got a wealth of experience going into the team… andI really think they’re going to try to win it for Danny Buderus.
“The fact they’ve got Buderus, he’s such a wonderful leaderand a magnificent player – they go so much better when he’s on the paddock.”
Hagan, assistant coach of the all-conquering QueenslandMaroons side, believes if Newcastle progress it will be the Knights’ pack thatultimately shuts down the playmaking dangers of Roosters halves Mitchell Pearceand James Maloney.
“[Pearce and Maloney] had a benefit of a really goodplatform 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 andthat’s where they need to be really good [tonight], trying to limit their spaceso if they can do that I think that’ll go a long way to limiting theirinfluence,” Hagan says.
“They’ve been really good in the past six or eight weekssince Origin too – they seem to have found another gear and it’ll be hard tokeep an eye on them all the time and I just that’s the challenge of facingthem.”
Hagan, however, stressed no single player would prove thedifference for the Knights – he says it’s the unified front that’ll helpNewcastle in their quest to overcome the Roosters.
“[Newcastle] really want to win for each other, and that’sthe 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 gameand holding their own and having an impact… the fact they’re working for eachother seems to be a noticeable thing too.
“It should be a great game.”