Interim coach Kristian Woolf has appealed to disgruntled Newcastle fans to abandon any plans of boycotting their last home game of the season and instead support the players in their hour of need.
Acknowledging the Knights had left themselves open to criticism from all quarters because of their sub-standard effort in a humiliating 46-4 loss to Wests Tigers last Saturday, Woolf said the players were “a very united group” determined to make amends against the Gold Coast Titans on Old Boys’ Day.
Tonga's Test coach, and favourite to replace Gold Coast-bound Justin Holbrook at St Helens, Woolf has been in charge since Nathan Brown stepped down on Tuesday.
Woolf, who revealed Brown had asked him to take the reins for the rest of the season, understood the fans’ frustration and disappointment but urged them to stick solid.
"I’d really hope that they change their mind and come out and support us. At a time like this when things are tough for people, what we need is support and we need that support from the fans," Woolf said on Friday at his first media conference as caretaker coach.
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"It’s certainly not the first time that the club’s had dramas like this, and the fans have always stuck by the club, and that’s exactly what we would hope they do in this position as well.
"This is the biggest day on the calendar for the club, and that’s certainly not lost on the players. It carries great significance, and our blokes are very proud of the history of the club.
"They want to be a big part of that history, and they want to make sure that the tough culture that’s been built here is carried on as well, so it certainly has been mentioned and it’s certainly what we’re going to be doing this weekend."
Woolf is coming to the end of his first season in Newcastle after Brown recruited him from North Queensland as assistant coach, primarily focusing on the team’s defence.
Before parting company with the Knights earlier this week, Brown asked Woolf to fill the breach and the 44-year-old former schoolteacher from Mount Isa did not think twice.
"It’s not the circumstances that anyone wants but when Nathan asked me to do this for the last couple of weeks, that’s what I think I need to do for the club, and that’s what I think I need to do for him, and obviously the players as well," Woolf said.
"I speak to Nathan every day. My opinion of Nathan hasn’t changed one bit. He’s a terrific man, he’s a terrific coach, I really respect him, and I really respect the fact that he was willing to bring me down and make me a part of the organisation, so that doesn’t change one bit.
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"Nathan’s a unique character, and he handles everything really well … I’ve got no doubt that he’s hurting, but one of his biggest strengths is the way that he does handle occasions, and he’s certainly handled this as well as I’ve seen anyone handle situations like this."
Woolf said it was too late to make significant changes to Newcastle’s personnel or playing style for their last two games of the season, and they had responded well to him since he took over.
He conceded the circumstances leading up to the Wests Tigers game took a toll on everyone at the club but he has spent part of this week’s preparation reminding the players of some of their standout performances this year against title contenders like the Roosters and Rabbitohs.
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"We had a lot going on last week and blokes don’t perform under those circumstances, so the fairest thing we can do is give those guys an opportunity to try to make up for that, and as I said before, I’ve got no doubt that they will.
"The important thing for all of us is to move a little bit past last week. There’s a lot of things that went on, and when things are going on at footy clubs, it makes people emotionally very drained, and I think what was seen was a performance where blokes were emotionally drained."