Pressure is building in Newcastle but Knights coach Nathan Brown is not feeling the heat heading into their game against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
Brown has become accustomed to sitting in the hot seat since taking the reins at the end of 2015.
Often in charge of boys against men, he endured the anguish of back-to-back wooden spoons in his first two seasons, then a slight improvement to 11th last year, all while overseeing the most significant rebuilding period in the club’s history.
The gain from all that pain was a deeper, stronger squad for their 2019 campaign.
Along with that came greater expectations from their loyal, long-suffering supporters.
Their patience is wearing thin after three straight losses, albeit by single-figure margins, to the Panthers (16-14), Raiders (17-10) and Dragons (13-12).
There have been positive signs in all those games, particularly Newcastle’s vastly improved defence which was ranked fourth in the NRL heading into round five, but they are becoming desperate to break the drought to stay in touch with the frontrunners.
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"Look, every week there’s pressure on whether you’ve won a couple or lost a couple," Brown said.
"For us, we’ve got some really good things happening from one part of the game.
"We’re doing very, very well [in defence], which is something we put a lot of focus into, so we’ve certainly got that covered.
"Not winning games is obviously disappointing so certainly when you lose, and you lose a few on the bounce, obviously the pressure mounts because we are in a win-loss sort of game.
"But as a coach, you don’t coach for survival, you coach to do the best for the club and the team and that’s what we just continue to do."
Manly will be without star fullback Tom Trbojevic but Brown believed they still had many strengths including middle forwards Jake Trbojevic, Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake, dummy-halves Api Koroisau and Manase Fainu, and match-winning halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.
"They’ve got a core group of players that I’m pretty confident [coach] Dessie [Hasler] will build a very successful club around," Brown said.
"That sort of nucleus is really, really strong and the one thing they all do very well is either carry the ball or create opportunity, so for us to do well, our middles are going to have to be doing a great job on their middles.
"If we can do that, we’ll get a much better look at Cherry and their two dummy-halves, but when the two props and the other Trbojevic are rolling through that middle part of the field, their key players are really hard to handle."
Brown said former Knights and Roosters utility Brendan Elliot, who will replace Tom Trbojevic at fullback, had been a handy acquisition for the Sea Eagles after leaving Newcastle "on great terms".
"He’s a player who’s always going to find a home," Brown said.
"He’s a great guy, and whenever he’s asked to do a job, he always does a really good job. He’s maintained a position in the team every week at Manly and it’s been in a number of positions."
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Two of Newcastle’s three defeats have been at home, including their extra-time heart-breaker against the Dragons last Sunday, and leading try-scorer Edrick Lee said they didn't want to let another game slip at McDonald Jones Stadium.
"It’s something we’ve spoken about but we know that if we can get one win, we’ll be on track to get a couple more," he said.
"Something we spoke about earlier in the pre-season was to make McDonald Jones Stadium a fortress again."