Tiger Taunts: Leichhardt holds no fear for Knights

Newcastle head to Leichhardt Oval for the first time since 1999 on Monday night but utility forward Matt Hilder insists there is no reason for the Knights to be overawed by one of the NRL’s most intimidating suburban grounds.

One of only four current Knights players to have ventured into the heart of Tigers territory in the past, along with Isaac De Gois, Evarn Tuimavave and Antonio Kaufusi, Hilder believes Newcastle can use the Leichhardt cauldron to their advantage against a side that has typically proven difficult to beat at their traditional home grounds.

“I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about,” said Hilder, who played at Leichhardt in his debut season for Cronulla back in 2003.

“It’s a good ground to play at – a good atmosphere there. The crowd is close to the ground and I think our boys will enjoy it with the suburban ground. It will be good for us I think.”

Asked if there was a chance some less-experienced team-mates could find Leichhardt intimidating, Hilder said: “Not really. You can sort of turn that into a positive for yourself.

“I know it gets me fired up a bit if the crowd is vocal and getting into you. I’m personally looking forward to it.

“Having said that, the Tigers are particularly difficult to play at Leichhardt, that’s for sure. They always go pretty good there and if they don’t win, they go pretty close.

“But we’ve got a bye the next week so we know how important the win would be for us.”

With the Knights (ninth) currently sitting one spot behind Wests Tigers and on the fringes of the top eight, this weekend’s clash looms as the defining game of the round.

Both sides are currently locked on 12 competition points and a win by either would see them put a two-point break on the chasing pack but for Newcastle it is also about finding some much-needed consistency after they snapped a three-game losing streak with last Saturday night’s grinding 8-6 win over Parramatta.

“It was a very important win for us… it keeps us in touch with the top eight and gives us a chance to make a move – but we need to take our opportunities,” Hilder said.

“We’ve been in pretty much all of our games except for one – we could have won all of them.

“That tells us that we’re doing something right but we’ve got to learn to put the finishing touches on it.

“Defensively we’ve been pretty good for the last month or so, so we’re getting to where we want to be with that. But our attack hasn’t quite had its potency there this year. We’ve got a lot of potential there so I’m not sure why it’s not clicking like it should… but when it does, it will be good.”

Newcastle head into Monday’s game minus halfback Jarrod Mullen, who suffered a serious pectoral injury last week, with Kurt Gidley – who will know by then whether he has been recalled to the NSW State of Origin squad – donning the No.7 jersey in his absence.

Meanwhile, workhorse defender Hilder revealed he was on the verge of re-signing with the club for three more years.

“We’re trying to work out the deal itself but I’ve agreed that I want to stay and they want to keep me so we’ve just got to work out the finer details – the money and how long I’m going to stay for,” Hilder said.

“We’re probably a few weeks off yet but it’s looking good and it will be good to be part of the club as it goes through these changes, so I’m looking forward to it.

Hilder is one of 10 Knights players left in limbo by Nathan Tinkler’s recent takeover of the club and the appointment of Wayne Bennett as coach from next season. But said he had always hoped to remain a Novocastrian.

“I always planned to stay here – my manager just said to me that we’ll see where we are with the Knights and if we don’t get what we’re after there then we’ll have a look somewhere else,” he said. “But it hasn’t come to that stage yet.

“Obviously different players have different issues there on whether they’re coming or going and what they’re doing next year.

“Every player has to look after themselves and do what’s best for them so the players all understand that.

“We understand the club’s side too – they’re trying to win a premiership in the next few years and they’re doing what they feel needs to be done to achieve that.

“In the end you’ve just got to get on with it and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”

Late NRL news:

•    Tigers fullback Wade McKinnon is in doubt for Monday night’s clash but the club remains confident that both back-rower Gareth Ellis (ankle) and winger Lote Tuqiri – who has missed the past nine weeks with a broken arm – will be fit to play.

•    Canberra are expected to recall Terry Campese into the squad to face North Queensland tomorrow night. Campese hasn’t played since suffering a serious knee injury late last year.

•    Cronulla are sweating on the fitness of star fullback Nathan Gardner who has been sidelined for the past five weeks with an ankle injury. Gardner is rated a strong chance of returning against Brisbane tonight.