After the Knights slumped to their fifth loss in a row against Gold Coast on Easter Sunday, Newcastle coach Nathan Brown kept his head even while his critics were calling for it.
Captain Mitchell Pearce credits Brown’s composure as the catalyst to Newcastle’s three-game winning streak, which they hope to stretch to four against the Dragons at Mudgee on Sunday.
Victories over the Eels, Warriors and Bulldogs have helped the Knights climb from the basement to the fringe of the eight, but they are bracing for an even sterner test of their credentials against the Dragons, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Broncos in the next six weeks.
Rebounding from an indifferent start to the season at a personal level, Pearce has polled maximum Dally M points in Newcastle’s past three wins and is pleased to be “back to playing my best footy”, but the veteran playmaker said neither he nor his team-mates were getting ahead of themselves.
“Whenever you get criticism, something that I’ve always prided myself on and something I grew up getting taught is to grit your teeth and keep fighting,” Pearce said on Tuesday.
“As a team here, we’ve got a bunch of guys here who I feel are pretty resilient characters, including our coach. The coach is a calm, resilient guy. We lost five in a row and there was a real calm energy around, and when you keep that sort of composure when the chips are down, we’ve proven that you can turn it around with some positive results.
“But footy, it’s always tapping on your shoulder – the dark side – so you’ve got to keep focused, keep working hard and we’ve got another massive game this week against the Dragons.
“Every week’s a new game, and if we don’t bring the same attitude again and work as hard as we have been – at training and on the field – we’ll come up short, so we’ve got to re-create it again this week.”
Pearce said the Knights continued to trust each other and remain tight while their character was being tested during their five-game losing streak.
“When you’re losing with a new group and you’re trying to build trust off each other, especially with new players coming to a club, it can make it a bit harder sometimes,” he said.
“So we did really well. Our coach kept everything really calm and as a playing group, we stayed positive and stuck together, and we’ve been lucky enough and worked hard enough to turn it around in the last three weeks and we’ve got to keep that attitude.
“… I’ve been around footy long enough to know a team that’s good, and quality people and players, and I knew that we had a good, quality group here.
“I knew with hard work and trusting what we’re trying to achieve, we were going to start getting some form. It’s only three in a row and we’ve had five losses but we’re on the right track, and we’re happy with where we’re at.”
Pearce does not fear a letdown, provided the Knights continue to compete as hard as they have in the past three weeks. Though that would not always guarantee a victory, he said it would ensure they give themselves that chance every week.
“We’ve worked really hard to create winning feelings, we’ve found a good formula and we’ve found a bit of an identity as a team, and we’ve got full confidence we can continue with that,” he said.
“But what I’m trying to say is footy’s hard and you’ve got to re-create that every week and this week is going to be a really tough game against the Dragons.”
Brown named an unchanged squad, though five-eighth Connor Watson and winger Edrick Lee, who both have foot injuries, will be assessed later in the week.
Kurt Mann is on standby for Watson but would also be considered on the wing if Lee is ruled out. Another option would be to move Hymel Hunt to wing and use Sione Mata’utia as the new centre.