Knights coach Nathan Brown believes they are better equipped to challenge the Sydney Roosters than at any other time during his four seasons in Newcastle.
It almost goes without saying, considering they have never beaten the Roosters on his watch. The reigning champions and premiership favourites have won six straight and 10 of their past 11 against Newcastle since 2011.
But after four successive wins against the Dragons, Bulldogs, Warriors and Eels to climb from last to sixth, Brown feels the Knights have every right to be optimistic in the build-up to the game at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Apart from chasing their first victory over the Roosters since 2014, the Knights are aiming for five consecutive wins for the first time since 2015 and are bubbling with confidence after thumping the Dragons 45-12 in Mudgee last Sunday.
“Certainly coming in off four wins, with three on the road in a row, our away form has certainly been strong and our last home game against Parra was probably as good as we have played this year as well,” Brown said on Tuesday.
“You certainly don’t want to go in playing a team of this quality and class out of form and down in confidence, so the fact we’re coming in off the back of four wins, and obviously a very strong win on the weekend, it’s probably the best time to get them.
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“I’d be disappointed if the guys aren’t going out with good confidence this week. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of respect for the team we’re playing and their players and their club, but we should feel good about ourselves and we should go out there to compete hard and give ourselves a shot.”
The Knights pushed the Roosters in the corresponding game last year, going down 18-16, but often resembled boys against men when beaten 38-8 (2018), 28-4 (2017) and 38-0 (2016) at Allianz Stadium, and 24-6 (2017) in Newcastle in their previous four games under Brown.
Newcastle lost five straight games earlier this year while adjusting to the off-season acquisition of senior forwards David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and James Gavet and outside backs Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee and Hymel Hunt, and a three-game experiment using Kalyn Ponga at five-eighth.
But with Ponga back at fullback and captain Mitchell Pearce calling the shots behind a dominant pack, their attack has run smoothly and they have been a tough nut to crack defensively, scoring 131 points and conceding 54 during their four-game winning streak.
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Still, Brown believed the Roosters were a better team now than when they won the competition last year, and he was under no illusion about the difficulty of the task the Knights face on Friday.
“We’ve certainly fielded some sides in recent years against better sides where the opposition probably didn’t have to play near their best to do well, where I’d be surprised if the Roosters weren’t preparing to play a very good game of footy,” Brown said.
“… They would think if they didn’t play reasonably well, they could come unstuck, where that probably wasn’t the case against us in the past, so we’re certainly more equipped this time.
“But by the same token, we’re going to have to have 17 players contribute. We can’t have seven or eight real good players and seven or eight average.”
When the Knights skipped away to lead the Bulldogs 16-0 in Magic Round but had to defend grimly for much of the second half to secure a 22-10 win, Brown said it was better than a blow-out at that stage of their development.
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He was just as pleased to see them put the Dragons “to the sword” after leading 28-0 at half-time.
“The fact that at half-time, we were in a very, very strong position, to come out and start the second half really well was important for us, to make sure that we’ve got that streak in us where if we do get a side vulnerable, we can go on with it,” he said.
“We certainly had Canterbury in a spot of bother and they got themselves back in the contest … and made it very, very difficult.”
In the only positional change from the 17-man squad that accounted for the Dragons, Brown named Connor Watson to start at five-eighth and Kurt Mann to come off the bench, but indicated that was not necessarily how they would line up against the Roosters.