EVEN when they were struggling through a five-game losing streak, fullback Darius Boyd never lost faith in coach Wayne Bennett or the changes he was implementing at the Knights.
The expectation was on Bennett and Boyd to instantly transform Newcastle into a perennial contender when they arrived from St George Illawarra at the start of this season.
After all, Bennett had won six premierships with Brisbane and one at the Dragons, and Boyd had been a member of those last two title-winning teams in 2006 (Broncos) and 2010 (Dragons), winning the Clive Churchill Medal in the latter.
But neither Boyd nor the Knights played to their potential in the first two-thirds of the season, and all but their most staunch supporters had written them off after their fifth straight defeat – a humiliating 32-16 loss to Canberra at Hunter Stadium on June 9.
Boyd never doubted Bennett, the only club coach he has had in 159 games over seven years at the Broncos, Dragons and Knights, and in the past two months he has finally looked comfortable.
Combining with halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts and hooker Danny Buderus, behind an aggressive and assertive pack, Boyd has been the attacking link man with outside backs Timana Tahu, Dane Gagai, Kevin Naiqama and Aku Uate.
The Knights have breathed life back into their season with three straight wins and five from their past six, setting up a blockbuster against ladder leaders and title favourites Canterbury at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
Warming to his role has been a slow burn, rather than a sudden spark.
‘‘I think it’s just an over time thing,’’ Boyd said.
‘‘Like I said, early on it was tough, and we were all probably getting to know Wayne and getting to know structures and playing together and what he wanted.
‘‘I suppose maybe after Origin time, as a team we’re slowly putting things together and we’ve gotten better and better each week.
‘‘Wayne’s been there, done that, and everything that he’s done in his career speaks for itself.
‘‘I don’t know about the other boys but me personally, I didn’t have any dramas or any worries, and I wasn’t coming here for a year just to win a comp. I’m here for a couple of years to do a job and do the best you can, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
Most observers believed the 25-year-old Australian international regained his confidence during State of Origin, when he scored two tries in game one and another in the decider to help Queensland clinch a record seventh straight series win.
A member of the Maroons squad for the past five seasons, Boyd enjoyed being in familiar surrounds alongside long-time teammates, and he said playing on the wing was not as complicated as fullback and meant less responsibility.
‘‘I suppose having a different role in the team, I think playing on the wing you probably don’t have as much to do,’’ he said.
‘‘... If you have a bad game, people don’t really think it’s your fault, kind of thing, so in that way, we played well, got the job done, and came back here.
‘‘I don’t know, but I suppose you could say it probably helped a little bit.’’
Boyd said the Knights had not yet turned their season around ‘‘but we’ve put some good wins together and I suppose played to the potential that we know we have’’.
‘‘As long as we keep playing the way we’re playing, I think we’ll be right,’’ he said.
‘‘It doesn’t matter what other teams are doing or all those kind of things, if we just keep playing the way we’re playing, we’ll be in good stead for the finals if we get there.
‘‘[Melbourne] have lost five in a row, we lost five in a row earlier in the year, Brisbane have had a few losses, and Cronulla, so it’s definitely a wide open competition and it’s good to see.’’