DON’T try telling the Knights the top eight is cut and dried and the finals are out of reach.
Buoyed by their back-from-the-dead 38-20 victory over Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium on Monday, and despite not winning consecutive games all year, the Knights are convinced they can embark on a winning streak and a late charge to the finals.
Had the eighth-placed Tigers won, they would have moved to 20 points and left a four-point gap to the Warriors and Dragons (both 16). Had that been the case, with 10 rounds remaining, many judges believed the top eight teams would not have changed.
But the Tigers (18) left the door open, because they are only two points clear of the Warriors and Dragons. The Titans, Knights, Raiders and Roosters (all 14) are another two points in arrears.
Centre Timana Tahu, who scored a hat-trick of tries against the Tigers to move within one of Adam MacDougall’s all-time club record of 87, said coach Wayne Bennett and the players had spoken about not wanting to be spectators come September.
Tahu, who played 63 games in four seasons with the Eels between 2005 and 2010 – he played two seasons of rugby union for the Waratahs and Wallabies in 2008 and 2009 – will return to Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night for his first game with a visiting team since 2004.
‘‘Finals football is in my mind,’’ Tahu said. ‘‘There’s nothing worse – and a few players have said it, and I’ve heard Wayne say it – than sitting back in the first week of September and you’re on a Mad Monday watching the semis.
‘‘It’s something that you want to be in. This is what we play for, this is what we get paid for – being in the finals and beating the top teams.
‘‘Coming ninth or 10th is not good enough. We’re a competitive team. We’re not a team that just goes, ‘Oh well, we’ll try our best and see what happens next year.’
‘‘We don’t think like that.
‘‘Every game is a grand final, pretty much now from here on in. Wayne’s told us that, and a lot of the boys don’t want to be sitting back on Mad Monday watching the semis – especially me – so we’ve got to keep on playing, hopefully win all our home games and try to rack up a few away.’’
Prop Kade Snowden said the Knights had to beat the last-placed Eels on Saturday to consolidate their victory over the Tigers.
‘‘It really all starts from here for us, if we want to make the semis,’’ said Snowden, who combined with fellow front-rower Willie Mason to lead the Knights forwards against the Tigers.
‘‘We’ve got to keep working on our game and getting better, and I thought Monday night was a perfect way to start it.
‘‘We need to win seven of our last 10 to make the eight, and the teams we’ve got, it’s doable, easily. We just need to keep working on what we’ve been doing ...’’
Exactly how many points will be needed to make the top eight will not be clear until later in the season.
The Knights finished eighth with 28 points last season, as did Manly in 2010, and Parramatta scraped in with 29 in 2009 then made it all the way to the grand final.
If 28 points is again the cut-off, Snowden’s estimation of seven wins from their last 10 would be enough, and winger James McManus is confident they can do some damage if they make it.
‘‘It’s going to be a tough ask for us to make the finals but I think we can get there,’’ McManus said.
‘‘We’ve beaten teams that are in the top eight, so if we get there, things are going to build and if we manage to get ourselves there, then I think we’ll do well.
‘‘Critics can say whatever they want but we know where we’re heading, and hopefully that will be starting again on Saturday night.’’