Passionate back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon has urged Newcastle supporters to stand by the Knights as they embark on a seemingly impossible mission in the final four weeks of the Telstra Premiership.
Convinced their finals flame had been extinguished, Fitzgibbon was in tears after Newcastle's 20-14 loss to Parramatta at BankWest Stadium last Saturday, but he is adamant they can still sneak into the finals by winning their last four games against the Cowboys, Wests Tigers, Titans and Panthers.
The 25-year-old forward, who made his NRL debut in 2015, has endured three straight wooden spoons with the Knights and another campaign that fell short of the finals last year.
The Knights responded to a five-game losing streak earlier this season with six straight wins, and Fitzgibbon believes they can end their current six-game losing skid against North Queensland at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday and start another string of wins.
"I was pretty upset and emotional after the game, knowing for the last few years we've been building for something good, and this year was supposedly meant to be the year – and it still can be," Fitzgibbon told reporters before training on Tuesday.
"We haven't written it off just yet, but as a player it is upsetting. For myself, I've said it many times, I'm a fan of the Newcastle Knights as well, not only a player, so I feel from the fans' side of things and they have every right to be upset too.
"But if I could say one thing, don't give up on us yet. We've got another month of footy and hopefully we can make the most of it."
Fitzgibbon explained his emotional response to the Eels loss was the result of pent-up frustration and disappointment, but by Monday morning he was looking at their final four games with optimism.
He has retained his place on the left edge for the game against the Cowboys as coach Nathan Brown made minimal changes to the team beaten by the Eels.
Connor Watson was named to start at hooker for Danny Levi, who was included on the extended bench, and middle forward Josh King was selected in place of Queensland Origin representative Tim Glasby (concussion).
"I don't know how many games in my NRL career that I've won, but it's probably not many," Fitzgibbon said.
"After three wooden spoons, then 11th last year, we were looking pretty promising this year. It's a major goal of ours to play in the eight, and at the time on the weekend when I thought those hopes and dreams came crashing down for another year, it was pretty upsetting.
"But like I said, we're still in with a fighting chance because results went our way, so there's a silver lining to it all.
"The best part about footy, it's a bit of a cliché, but we're on again next week. As results panned out over the weekend, our season isn't over as everyone probably thought.
"If we win these next four games, we're within every chance of getting in there."
Jacob Saifiti, named on the bench alongside Herman Ese'ese, Sione Mata'utia and Aidan Guerra, said Newcastle fans had every right to be disappointed about the team's slide down the ladder.
But Saifiti believed a win at home against the Cowboys on Saturday would go a long way towards restoring lost pride and confidence.
"Talk is cheap, isn't it. It's all actions from here," Saifiti told reporters on Tuesday.
"We've got to rip in at training today and tomorrow, then in the game it's all about actions, so hopefully we can show that.
"Even though we've lost six on the trot, there's still a lot of belief in the team and team morale is still pretty high, so a win this weekend will hopefully get us going in the right direction.
"If we had that type of effort in the last five weeks or so before that, we would have snagged a win or two there. It's a pity it took that long to get that sort of effort, and the execution will hopefully come, but I was pretty happy with the effort of the boys at the weekend."