Broncos' desperate bid to stay alive
The numbers are slowly thinning out in the NRL's Last Chance Saloon and having ridden into town on the back of a 42-16 defeat to South Sydney, the Broncos are looking for at least three more rounds before they too get shown the door for season 2014.
Ironically, the team standing in their way of keeping hope alive for a further week did Brisbane a massive favour last Sunday by defeating the Warriors, inspirational forward Sam Thaiday conceding that he became a Knights fan for 80 minutes.
Losses by both the Eels and Warriors in Round 23 have kept the Broncos within one win of the top eight with three rounds remaining but the assignment remains three straight wins over the Knights (H), Dragons (H) and Storm (A) to play finals footy.
The Eels and Warriors face last year's grand finalists Manly and the Sydney Roosters respectively in Round 24 and Thaiday admitted that he is conscious of being distracted by what other teams are doing elsewhere in the competition.
"You try not to, but I've found myself looking at [the competition table] more and more the later we've got into the season," Thaiday said. "I've found myself watching more games, too and crossing my fingers and hoping for lower teams to beat higher teams and those types of things.
"Personally I have to try and get my mind out of that and my mind back focused on what we can do here at the Broncos.
"We still want to play finals footy. We are in that desperate situation and if we are playing good footy together as a team all those other things look after themselves."
Although he isn't paying as close attention to the fortunes of other clubs as his teammate, Broncos co-captain Corey Parker said there is no getting away from the fact that they are now facing a do-or-die scenario.
While Saturday evening's clash with Newcastle represents another chance to keep their season alive, Parker believes that the Broncos have to be more cognisant of the opportunities that present themselves during games and make the most of them.
"If we lose we've got no hope so it is desperate times. You're preparation still needs to be spot on and the way you apply yourself but it's a very important game for us," Parker said.
"We started the game [against Souths] really well and we created some opportunities and when you're playing the good sides you've got to capitalise on those things. Sometimes you might only get one or two opportunities to do that and the difference between the front-runners and the teams in mid-table is that they do capitalise on those opportunities.
"We can create it. It's just a matter of us executing properly and that's been frustrating for us at times but the pleasing thing and what you take out of it is the fact you can create some opportunities."
The Knights, with incoming Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett in his final month at the club, have caused upsets against the Storm and Warriors over the past fortnight and with an injection of youth are playing an expansive, uninhibited brand of football.
Against the Warriors last Sunday the Knights had 13 offloads to their opponent's five and Parker believes they will have had their eyes on a trip to Brisbane for quite a while.
"I didn't see any of the games over the weekend but the Knights have done us a favour I believe in terms of the points ladder but for us it's all about the Knights on Saturday night. It's a very important game for us, we need to win to stay alive, that's as simple as it is," said Parker.
"They're a great side the Knights. When they're playing confident footy they're hard to stop. I guess it's the same for most sides, when you've got key playmakers you've got to limit their time and space with the ball and Jarrod Mullen is obviously a key indicator for them.
"I'm sure they've got a big red circle around the Broncos draw in Brisbane, most teams do, but it's not about Newcastle and what other teams are doing, all we can focus on is the Broncos and what we've got ahead of us."