Steely Knights back on track for top eight

THIS time last week, the Knights were staring down the barrel of a sixth straight loss and bookmakers rated them a $5 chance to run last.

But after shocking Wests Tigers 38-20 at Hunter Stadium last Monday night, the Knights backed up with a 20-12 victory over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night to be two wins outside the top eight.

Having gone almost a year without winning consecutive games – they won three straight against the Sharks (July 23), Titans (July 31) and Raiders (August 7) last year – the Knights posted back-to-back victories in the space of six days to move to 12th on 16 points.

Playing with renewed confidence, but without Darius Boyd, the Knights scored three tries in 14 minutes to break a 6-6 half-time deadlock and take a 20-6 lead midway through the second half, then defended desperately in the final 10 minutes as the Eels charged home.

‘‘We haven’t gone back to back all year, so it’s a good confidence-builder for our team to know we can put two good performances together and hope to keep it rolling next week,’’ said pivot Jarrod Mullen, whose solo try in the 43rd minute sparked Newcastle’s scoring spurt.

Fullback Kevin Naiqama, a late replacement for Peter Mata’utia, ran 95metres to score eight minutes later, then dumped NSW winger Aku Uate touched down in the corner after a backline passing movement to stretch Newcastle’s lead to 20-6 in the 57th minute.

Facing games against top-six teams Souths at ANZ Stadium on Sunday and Manly in Newcastle the following Saturday, before successive away trips to Auckland and Canberra, Mullen said the Knights were not getting carried away but were focused on making the finals.

‘‘I think we’ve just gotten back to enjoying our footy, we’re enjoying our training a lot more, and I think it’s showing in our football because there’s a lot of guys out there with smiles on their faces, which is good,’’ he said.

‘‘When we were losing five in a row there, we were getting asked questions if we’d given up on the season, and that’s just ridiculous.

‘‘We’re training hard every day to get into the top eight, and I don’t know where we are on the ladder ... but if we can string a couple more together, we’re back in with a fight.’’

Mullen will have scans this week to determine the extent of a left thumb injury he sustained in the 68th minute but did not think it was serious. But prop Kade Snowden is expected to miss three to four weeks after being replaced in the 55th minute with a suspected grade-two medial ligament tear in his left knee.

Though he could not explain why, Knights coach Wayne Bennett said his team showed composure and confidence when Parramatta applied the blowtorch early in the second half.

‘‘We’re doing things that the good teams do, and we’re starting to do it two weeks in a row now. We wouldn’t have won that game a month ago,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘We’d have lost it just after half-time when the pressure was really on.’’

Skipper Danny Buderus said the Knights had regained their confidence through a willingness to work harder in the fundamental areas of the game, and were reaping the rewards.

‘‘We’re competing in the tackle, competing getting back onside, and those little things make the team more efficient,’’ Buderus said.

‘‘We’re giving ourselves a chance to win with our ball control. There’s a bit of a list there.

‘‘That bye came at a good time for us. We got away and had a big think about the first half of the season, and obviously we want to finish off the season on a good note.

‘‘We’re playing for our fans but we’re also playing for our coach and also the group we’ve got in there, so we’ve got some things we want to achieve.’’

? Parramatta scored 36 straight points, turning a 12-6 deficit into a 42-12 lead, on their way to a 42-28 victory over the Knights in the NYC game.

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