Rocky road to play-offs for Knights

THE Knights have the toughest draw of any of the fringe dwellers in the NRL finals race, but Canberra coach David Furner believes they are playing well enough to not fear anyone.

Of the 13 teams still in contention, ninth-placed Newcastle (22 points) are the only club who do not play a team below them on the NRL ladder in the run home.

Chasing a fourth straight victory, Newcastle will welcome leaders and favourites Canterbury (32), who have won nine in a row, to Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.

After that assignment, the Knights will host seventh-placed Cronulla (25) on August 13, sixth-placed Manly (26) at Brookvale on August 19, then fifth-placed North Queensland (26) at Townsville and second-placed Souths (30) in Newcastle in the last two rounds.

The NRL is yet to allocate dates for the games against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs.

Presuming the Roosters, Panthers and Eels are out of the running, the other 12 teams still in the hunt all play at least one side worse off than themselves.

In what was almost a sudden-death match one month early, the Raiders and Knights were both on 20 points heading into the game at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.

The Knights won 36-6 – their third straight victory and fifth from their past six games – and Furner reckoned they taught his team a lesson in finals-calibre football. It was Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett’s first win in six games against Furner, and first in Canberra since 2005.

‘‘Their style of play, obviously through Wayne, is that real St George-type football,’’ Furner said.

‘‘When they need to build energy through their defence, they’re kicking the ball out and making our start of sets from scrum starts or set starts, and they kicked really well and turned us around.

‘‘We got in an arm wrestle in the first half but couldn’t quite do it in the second half. In saying that, look, if they keep playing like that, they’re going to certainly put themselves into games.’’

Furner said the Knights handled the pressure of the occasion ‘‘better than us’’ and the Raiders were left ‘‘banged up’’ after being outmuscled.

‘‘The football we’re in at the moment, semi-finals-type football, we’re in that type of football now, and we didn’t handle that well in the second half,’’ he said.

Knights centre Dane Gagai said the players were trying to look no further than the Bulldogs.

‘‘It’s always going to be in your mind to get in the top eight and you always want to be playing in the finals and not sitting back watching it at home,’’ Gagai said yesterday.

‘‘It does come up in your mind a bit, but our main goal is to take it week by week and just try to win every game from here, and the Bulldogs are going to be our next challenge.’’

A Knights spokeswoman said the club did not expect the game against the Bulldogs to be a sell-out.

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