LEADING bookmaker TAB Sportsbet has responded to Newcastle’s miserable form and five-game losing streak by installing the Knights as third favourites to run last.
The Knights were listed at $151 to finish the NRL season with the most losses after they beat Penrith 32-12 at Hunter Stadium on April 30, but they have lost five straight games in the six weeks since then and are now a $5 chance behind bottom two teams Penrith and Parramatta.
The last-placed Eels remain the popular pick with TAB Sportsbet at $1.90, followed by the Panthers ($4), Knights ($5), Raiders ($11), Titans ($21) and Roosters ($26).
The Knights and Panthers are $5 equal second favourites for the wooden spoon with another sports betting agency, sportsbet.com.au, behind the Eels ($1.67).
One of TAB Sportsbet’s pre-season premiership favourites at $9, the Knights are now listed among the also-rans as a $201 chance of winning the competition.
‘‘The hardest thing is to get out of a rut, and they’re deep in one now, and they’re minus their inspirational captain, Kurt Gidley, who won’t play for the rest of the year,’’ TAB Sportsbet media manager Glenn Munsie said last night.
‘‘They’re just not showing anything to give the idea that they’re a chance of getting out of it.’’
The Knights were seventh on the ladder after they beat Penrith but have since been trounced by the Roosters (24-6), Cowboys (32-12), Titans (24-14), Broncos (50-24) and Raiders (32-16).
They have collected just two points in that stretch from a bye, and will pocket another two points from their second bye this weekend.
Munsie said there was no interest in the Knights to run last when they had blown out to $151, as punters were still steering clear because they trusted seven-time premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett to guide them high enough up the ladder to avoid the spoon.
‘‘They’re still a winner to run last,’’ he said.
‘‘We haven’t taken much money on them for most losses because that’s not something that sticks in the minds of punters, for a Wayne Bennett-coached side to be down the bottom of the table. Enough people think they will beat at least someone home.’’
The Knights have run last just once in their 25-year history, in 2005, but narrowly avoided the same fate two years later when they scored 14 points in the last seven minutes to pip Wests Tigers 26-24 at Homebush in their last game of the season.
Senior forwards Matt Hilder (concussion) and Evarn Tuimavave (foot) have been left out of Newcastle’s NSW Cup team to play Wentworthville at Ringrose Park on Sunday.
Outside backs Peter Mata’utia and Kevin Naiqama and hooker Chris Adams, who all played in the NRL team’s disastrous 32-16 loss to the Raiders at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, were included in the NSW Cup side with experienced NRL campaigners Wes Naiqama, Junior Sa’u and Richie Fa’aoso, who are out of favour.
Fa’aoso is off contract at the end of the year and is being pursued by other NRL clubs and Japanese rugby union club Panasonic Wild Knights, and Sa’u and Wes Naiqama are being shopped around despite signing contract extensions last year.
NSW Cup coach Rip Taylor said Hilder and Tuimavave did not play in Newcastle’s 64-10 rout of Wests Magpies at Campbelltown on Saturday because Hilder, who was concussed the previous week, did not pass a CogSport test and Tuimavave is being treated for a foot injury.
Meanwhile, the Knights have confirmed stand-in skipper Danny Buderus will play on next year.
The veteran former NSW and Australian skipper agreed to a one-year deal when he signed on to return from English Super League club Leeds Rhinos this year but always left his options open to keep playing in 2013.
Buderus has been frustrated by the Knights’ form in his comeback season but wants to do everything he can to help the club succeed on and off the field.