Knights won’t coast against Titans: Rochow
It’s music to Knights fans’ ears: after an impressive start to the season that has the Novocastrians sitting in fifth place and riding a wave of confidence, Wayne Bennett’s men insist they are warming to something special.
In a warning shot across the Titans’ bow before their clash this week, forward Robbie Rochow – who meets his sister’s boyfriend, Greg Bird, in the match against the Gold Coast – reveals his Knights are focused on climbing higher following victories against the Tigers, Cowboys, Raiders and Panthers in the first six weeks of the competition.
"Four-and-two isn’t a bad start to the season but as a team I don’t think we’ve been performing," Rochow, who has played the full 80 minutes in his past four matches, tells NRL.com.
"Even though we’ve come away with a few wins, I still feel like as a team we’ve got so much more to give than what we’re showing.
"That’s the good thing about it being so early on in the season that hopefully come towards to end of the season we’ll be performing much more consistently.
"That’s the goal at the moment – to get that in order and hopefully we’ll be up there in the top four or top eight at the end of the season.”
A versatile back- or front-rower, 22-year-old Rochow is averaging more than 30 tackles and 100 metres gained per match for the Knights this season. Despite recently cementing his place in Newcastle’s starting 13, he maintains he’s only scratching the surface of his own potential – and despite self-imposed limitations.
"There are a lot of areas [I can improve on] – the problem is trying to narrow it down to one each week because you can’t improve on everything,” Rochow says.
"My role’s pretty simple and [coach Bennett] knows what I do well. He just wants me to play as a middle forward even though I’m playing on the edge at the moment because of a few injuries – I still play like a middle forward on the edge – and defend how my edge needs me to. I’m a bit of a worker… get some carries up and be solid in 'D' and really tighten things up for the team.
"I’m not trying to be a ball-playing back-rower, I’m just trying to get a bit more skill in my game and wait for it to become more natural for me before I bring it into my game on the weekend."
Remarkably, the East Maitland Griffins junior had to head south for his initial opportunity – he linked with Melbourne from 2009-11 – after being overlooked by the Knights scouts as a teenager - but now he’s back home, he’s happier than ever.
"I played SG Ball for the Knights but only half-a-dozen players made it through to the -20s squad and I wasn’t selected for that,” Rochow, a part of the Storm’s 2009 Under-20s title triumph, says.
"I was playing for Kurri and out of nowhere I got an offer to go down and play for the Storm for two years, so as soon as I finished school I went to Melbourne and played a full year of under 20s and had a pre-season of first grade and got another deal and stayed for a bit. I was lucky to get the opportunity but it made all the difference.
"I ended up making some really good mates and I had the opportunity to play under some really good coaches in Brad Arthur and Michael Maguire and Stephen Kearney – all those sorts of guys before I even got to Bellamy!
"I was lucky in that sense and I think working with Brad Arthur and those sorts of coaches early on has made all the difference for me playing NRL right now."
After two first-grade matches for the Storm across the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Rochow’s former club came knocking, and the opportunity to return home and play for the team he supported as a kid – and under the game’s most credentialed coach Wayne Bennett – proved irresistible.
"I supported the Knights growing up, yeah – I remember watching the 1997 grand final and the 2001 grand final," Rochow says. "We used to go to the games with Dad and stuff like that – it’s great to be back in Newcastle and playing for the team I grew up supporting. To be a part of it, I feel pretty humbled to be given the opportunity.
"It’s pretty surreal sometimes, when you run out with Danny Buderus and Timana Tahu – blokes I used to watch play 10 years ago – it is… not daunting… but it is a great thing for me to do and something I hope to do as long as I can with this playing group we’ve got at the moment. I’m just trying to cherish every week and play the best I can for this team."
On Sunday Rochow and his teammates come up against an improved Gold Coast line-up that will once again test the Knights’ premiership credentials. For Rochow there’s even more at stake, facing his sister Becky’s boyfriend Bird, who has publically said the Knight is in for "a lot of special treatment".
"They’ve got a strong forward pack and that’s their main strength – they’ve got a lot of experience in their forwards," Rochow, who has not yet played the Titans at NRL level, says.
"I haven’t played against [Bird] before so it’s not playing on my mind or anything.
"I know Birdy well enough now and I’ve watched him enough to know what to expect from him on the field. It’s not troubling me at all, but I think my sister might be a bit worried. I don’t know who she’s worried for, though!
"I think my sister’s been talking to my parents and asking them who they’re going for – but I think my parents have definitely settled ties with me."