Written off as finals ‘pretenders’ and with the daunting task of facing minor premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park just to stay alive on Sunday, Newcastle five-eighth Ryan Stig believes the key to success will be making their opportunities count.
Buoyed by last week’s 40-24 thrashing of South Sydney in which the Knights shot out of the blocks to lead 30-6 at halftime, Stig said that Newcastle’s seven-try performance proved they had the weapons to trouble a Melbourne side missing in-form five-eighth Gareth Widdop.
“It will be an exciting challenge and that’s how we’re approaching it,” Stig told NRL.com.
“I don’t think too many people are expecting us to win but as a playing group we’ll be going down there to give it a red-hot crack and hopefully we can cause an upset.
“I guess it is a bit of a case of having nothing to lose – but we’re going to stick together and we’ve got a lot of belief in our playing group.
“That first half last week we fired some shots and scored some good tries, so we can take some positives out of that. If we can put together a more-complete 80-minute effort we could be in business.”
Stig said it was important that Newcastle continued on where it left off last week, with a fast start again imperative if they hope to apply pressure to the competition favourites.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses – they’re a pretty complete footy side across the park – but I think when you play Melbourne you’ve just got to take your opportunities. It’s all about execution for us. That will be the key,” he said.
“When we get an opportunity we’re going to have to take it because I don’t think they’re going to offer us too many. That has really been the order of the week for us. If they present us with an opportunity, we have to take it.”
Asked about the absence of Widdop, Stig said: “It’s probably a big of an advantage for us because we’ve had a pretty solid 1, 6, 7 and 9 for a while now and our combinations are getting better week by week. I think we’re pretty comfortable there.
“It’s pretty unfortunate for Gareth – he has been playing great and maybe that opens up a bit of a door for us – but Melbourne have shown in recent times that whenever they’ve had to bring someone else in, they’ve filled the void.
“I mean, they do it so well so we’re not expecting them to be too unsettled. I’m sure whoever comes in there [Maurice Blair has been named] will do a good job. But as far as our combos go we’re pretty happy and I think we clicked pretty well in that first half last week.”
Stig has been a revelation for the Knights since making his NRL debut in a 16-12 win over Penrith in Round 15. Called in to replace Beau Henry, who has since joined the Gold Coast, the 21-year-old has played every game since – his combination with halfback Jarrod Mullen a key factor in helping the side reach the finals.
“I’ve loved being a part of it and I’m sure I’ll be jumping out of my skin come Sunday, playing in my first finals series,” he said. “I’ve been feeling more comfortable week by week. But having said that you quickly learn in the NRL that each week is a new challenge and if you’re not up for it in any week you get burnt pretty quickly.
“But I’m really enjoying playing five-eighth and working on my combination with 'Mullo'. You always want to set your goals high so I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved more than I expected – but at the same time I’m really happy with how I’ve gone since I’ve come in. It’s been great. I think it’s been about 12 games straight now and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.
“As I said, you never want to get too comfortable in a footy side – you always want to keep challenging yourself and what better opportunity to do that than against Melbourne this weekend.”
• Melbourne boast the best record against their fellow top eight sides this season, with seven wins and three losses, while Newcastle are the worst at 2-10.
• Melbourne have defeated Newcastle at home in their past seven matches by an average score of 37-7.
• The last time retiring Newcastle centre Adam MacDougall tasted victory in a finals match was the 2001 grand final win over Parramatta.