Table-topping Knights "can still improve"

NSW captain-in-waiting Kurt Gidley has labelled Newcastle genuine premiership contenders following their 38-6 demolition of Sydney Roosters on Saturday night – but coach Brian Smith has warned his side not to jump the gun.<br><br>The Knights are surprise joint-competition leaders after 10 rounds alongside heavyweights the Bulldogs, St George Illawarra and Brisbane and are the NRL’s form team with six wins from their past seven games.<br><br>Victory against North Queensland next weekend would see them notch four in a row for the first time in three years – but Smith said any talk of a grand final berth was far too premature.<br><br>“They’ve got to keep getting better,” he said. “I’m a bit greedy but I’ve also been burned. <br><br>“I’ve been with teams that have been in this position a number of times and, particularly with young players, they can start to think that everything has been done too soon. <br><br>“At the other end of the scale they think that ‘Because I’m young I’ve got a massive career ahead of me and I don’t need to capitalise right now’. <br><br>“My job is to make sure we capitalise.”<br><br>Despite one of the most one-sided games seen all season, Smith pointed to a number of missed opportunities to add more points against the Roosters as evidence that the Knights still had work to do if they expected to feature heavily come September.<br><br>“I would have liked to have seen us be a bit more clinical but we’re asking a lot for any side to play the perfect two halves,” he said. <br><br>“But that’s why we need to keep improving.<br><br>“I’ve got to keep convincing these boys that as a crew they are playing fantastically but individually our left side can do some things a little bit better, our right side can as well and even our middle.<br><br>“There were some moments in the second half of that game where we lost our way a little, but I was also pleased when the Roosters made a break through an intercept that our blokes were scrambling back to stop them. <br><br>“That’s a great sign.”<br><br>Gidley, who set up two tries and carved the Roosters to shreds, isn’t so harsh in his assessment of Newcastle’s chances this season despite the fact that they barely rated a mention in pre-season premiership talk.<br><br>“That’s what we strive for – every year you aim to make the semi-finals and win the competition,” he said. <br><br>“But this is the best start to a year that we’ve had in a long time. <br><br>“We have struggled for consistency the past few years but this year it is coming together well.<br><br>“I’m not worried what other teams think about us – whether they think we’re premiership contenders or they under-rate us. <br><br>“We’ve been training well and we believe in what we’re doing at training so as long as we keep doing that we’ll go well.”<br><br>The Knights have struggled to cope with the retirement of legendary halfback Andrew Johns over the past two seasons – finishing 15th in 2007 and 9th in 2008.<br><br>But the tough decisions made by Smith in cutting a number of club veterans after his first season is starting to pay dividends, with a forward pack that is firing and fullback Gidley stepping up to fill the leadership role left by former captain Danny Buderus.<br><br>“All of our forwards have been working hard at a little bit of skill development and pre-line off-loading,” Smith said, pointing to Newcastle’s last try against the Roosters where Richard Fa’aoso threw a superb pass for fellow forward Danny Wicks to cream through a gap and score.<br><br>“If someone had told me three years ago that Richie would do that and put someone over for a try I would have giggled.<br><br>“Generally speaking our players are working hard for each other and believing that they can do things that perhaps they haven’t done before.”<br><br>The Knights are expected to welcome back injured duo Adam MacDougall and Wes Naiqama for next Monday night’s clash away clash with North Queensland.<br><br>