Knights eye mission improbable

FIJIAN flyer Aku Uate insists the struggling Newcastle Knights can still make the NRL finals, and while history suggests the odds are stacked against them, it also offers a glimmer of hope.

Sunday’s 34-14 hammering from South Sydney left the Knights 14th on the table with just six wins from their first 16 games.

With eight games remaining – all of which are against teams above them on the ladder – Newcastle are two wins adrift of the top eight and will probably need a minimum of six more victories to scrape into the play-offs. Such a revival may appear unlikely but would not be unprecedented.

Since the NRL’s inaugural season in 1998, five teams have reached the post-season from a similarly bleak position to Newcastle’s.

Two of them, Canberra (2002) and Parramatta (2009), were even worse off, having registered only five wins and a draw after their first 16 games. Both teams finished eighth, and the Eels actually progressed to the grand final, where they lost to Melbourne. Three other sides – Parramatta (2006), South Sydney (2007) and Canberra (2010) – all had six wins at the corresponding stage of the season yet finished strongly to qualify as finalists.

Uate, who scored two tries against Souths and had another two disallowed, said yesterday none of his teammates had written this campaign off as a lost cause.

‘‘No, no way,’’ he said.

‘‘I never give up on my teammates, and I know my teammates never give up on Newcastle.

‘‘As I said, this week [against Manly] is a big game and we’ve just to take it game by game.’’

Asked how many more wins he thought Newcastle would need, Uate replied: ‘‘Hopefully we can win six, or maybe eight, that’d be good.

‘‘Hopefully we can just do our best the last eight rounds, and hopefully we can get up there.’’

Senior forward Chris Houston said his main focus was on beating Manly at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.

‘‘We can’t really control where we’re sitting on the ladder at the moment,’’ he said.

Mathematically Newcastle are still in contention, but their fixture list suggests they need a miracle.

Four of the games are at Auckland, Canberra, Brookvale and Townsville, which have traditionally been graveyards for the Knights.

Uate admitted Newcastle were overpowered through the ruck by the Rabbitohs and would need to improve against the premiers, who beat the Knights twice last season by a combined tally of 58-22.

‘‘This is the round that we need to step up and give all our best,’’ he said.

‘‘Hopefully we can make the top eight ... we just need to toughen up in the middle a bit and compress a bit.

‘‘We need to work on that this week.’’

Meanwhile, Uate offered an explanation for the bizarre try he conceded against Souths, when he was stripped of the ball in-goal by Rabbitohs forward Chris McQueen.

Uate said he was under the impression he would receive a penalty because McQueen had been in front of kicker Adam Reynolds.

‘‘That’s what I heard from the ref, ‘Offside, offside,’’’ Uate said.

‘‘I just stood there and the ball got stripped off me.

‘‘I was a bit frustrated, because I know better than that.’’

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