A nothing-to-lose attitude is what could drive the Knights past the Roosters and into a grand final showdown with Manly, according to two of Newcastle’s former premiership winners.
Just six wins from the opening 14 rounds of 2013 ensured the Knights were always going to be seen as premiership pretenders – and, following an eight-from-13 resurgence, including four consecutive victories, Marc Glanville 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 alone anything else,” 1997 premiership-winning forward Glanville tells NRL.com ahead of the Knights’ grand final qualifying clash with the Roosters on Saturday night.
“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 couple of times during the year where everyone thought they were no chance of making the eight. They’ve been on a roll, got into the eight and they’ve got a fair bit 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 of experience, a heap of momentum and the belief they would have got from beating Melbourne last week and Canterbury the week before would have helped them immensely. “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 big challenge on [Saturday] night.”
Hagan, coach of Newcastle’s 2001 title triumph against Parramatta, says the club has already exceeded expectations – but nevertheless insists they’re very capable of proceeding to the grand final.
“If they would’ve said top eight was their aspiration initially I think that’s about what they were hoping to achieve but I think the fact they are now a game away from the grand final I think that’s exceeded my expectation but not theirs,” Hagan says.
“The mindset in Newcastle is if you’re thereabouts you can go a bit further and I think that’s how the team and the coach are approaching the last couple of weeks of the year – I think that belief and that bit of momentum is in their favour at the moment.
“I really hope they can. They’re coming up against a real quality side in the Roosters but if they get through I think they’ve got the game plan and team to go further if they were to get there.”
Both Glanville and Hagan agree the key to progression into the decider rests in the hands of the Knights’ experienced pack.
“I just love how Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott play but for me the unsung hero all year’s been Robbie Rochow – he’s played just about every week, 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… and I really think they’re going to try to win it for Danny Buderus.
“The fact they’ve got Buderus, he’s such a wonderful leader and a magnificent player – they go so much better when he’s on the paddock.”
Hagan, assistant coach of the all-conquering Queensland Maroons side, believes if Newcastle progress it will be the Knights’ pack that ultimately shuts down the playmaking dangers of Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney.
“[Pearce and Maloney] had a benefit of a really good platform 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 and that’s where they need to be really good [tonight], trying to limit their space so if they can do that I think that’ll go a long way to limiting their influence,” Hagan says.
“They’ve been really good in the past six or eight weeks since Origin too – they seem to have found another gear and it’ll be hard to keep an eye on them all the time and I just that’s the challenge of facing them.”
Hagan, however, stressed no single player would prove the difference for the Knights – he says it’s the unified front that’ll help Newcastle in their quest to overcome the Roosters.
“[Newcastle] really want to win for each other, and that’s the 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 game and holding their own and having an impact… the fact they’re working for each other seems to be a noticeable thing too.
“It should be a great game.”