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Knights coach Adam O'Brien and the Saifiti brothers.

Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien has backed frustrated captain Daniel Saifiti’s call to arms ahead of Saturday night’s clash with Canberra.

Saifiti called out his fellow players in the wake of last weekend’s 28-8 capitulation to Sydney Roosters, saying some didn't "aim up".

After losing 48-4 loss to Melbourne the previous weekend, the Knights are now on the brink of missing the finals.

With two matches against the Broncos and a round 23 clash with the last-placed Bulldogs in their run home, many believe Newcastle have the easiest draw of the seven teams vying for the two remaining finals spots.

However, a loss to the Raiders could leave them four points outside the top eight and O'Brien said Saifiti was simply trying to inspire his teammates.

Knights v Raiders - Round 20

"I applaud Daniel, he is a leader, and I think when you are getting your own job done, he is quite within his rights to challenge some players," O’Brien said.

"Ultimately what we need from our playing group is to hold ourselves to a high standard and make each other accountable.

"If we are going to get consistent 80-minute performances then we need more of that sort of stuff going on."

The Knights have beaten sixth-placed Manly, seventh-placed Cronulla and the ninth-placed Raiders this season but have otherwise struggled for consistency.

O’Brien and his players have been able to point to the fact halfback Mitchell Pearce has managed just six appearances and star fullback Kalyn Ponga has only played eight games for the club but time is rapidly running out.

Whitehead primed for a dogfight with Knights

Pearce has again been ruled out of the Raiders clash with a hamstring injury but Ponga has overcome a sternum problem that restricted him last week.

O’Brien said Ponga had suffered the injury in the incident which forced him from the field against Melbourne with a HIA but he was now fully fit.

"He didn’t train at all the week before in and around the HIA protocols and the sternum was from that actual incident against Melbourne," O’Brien said.

"He had a pretty hampered week there but this week he has been excellent. He has trained really well, and he has got the pain management of the sternum. It has gone away."

Rookie centre Bradman Best will also return after suffering a syndesmosis injury six weeks ago and O’Brien said he would be an asset with and without the ball.

"He looks really fit and a player of his calibre getting the ball in good position is always going to be beneficial to us," O’Brien said.

"I am excited to not only see the attacking parts of his game but he brings energy with his defence as well so it is great to finally have him back."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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