KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett conceded the finals were out of reach after Manly manhandled Newcastle 42-20 at Brookvale Oval yesterday.
Bennett has been singing the same song all season in his first year in Newcastle, but the most successful coach in premiership history is resigned to being a September spectator for the first time since Brisbane missed the finals on his watch in 1991.
The Knights are 11th on 24 points with a minus-20 for-and-against differential, and finish the regular season away to sixth-placed North Queensland (28) in Townsville on Saturday night and third-placed South Sydney (32) in Newcastle the following Friday night.
They would need to win both games by lopsided margins, and hope a series of results from other games go their way, and Bennett has no plans to spend this week on his computer pondering the many permutations required for a miracle.
‘‘Look, I’ve been asked that question lots, and if you’ve been listening to my interviews and what you’ve been writing, we haven’t put ourselves in the finals equation at any time – not this coach anyway,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘I’d never thought about us being in the play-offs this year, and I’m still not thinking that way, regardless of the result today.
‘‘We gave up too much at the beginning of the year, we’ve had [captain] Kurt Gidley injured all year, and there’s no team going to make a presence in this play-offs without their top players being available.’’
Bennett said the Knights would start their pre-season preparations for 2013 in better shape than when he took over last November, because of the way the team had played for most of the final third of the season.
The Knights went in against the Sea Eagles yesterday having won six of their previous eight games, after they had bottomed out with a five-match losing streak midway through the year.
‘‘Not all hope’s lost. We turned our season around – not today, you wouldn’t think so – but we have,’’ the seven-time premiership-winning coach said.
‘‘There’s a lot for us to take out of the season and come back and start our pre-season being a lot further ahead because of what we did this year, with some quality players to come into the team.
‘‘I don’t want to lose what they’ve gained.
‘‘We certainly took some pain here today – the second half helped a little bit and was not totally without some credibility, so we’ve got two more weeks, two more tough games to play, and do our best.
‘‘Eight weeks ago, we couldn’t control the footy, playing with a lack of discipline and not a lot of intensity in our game, so we were in a hole eight or nine weeks ago.
‘‘I said we wanted to take something out of the season, and the last eight weeks has been a different footy team.
‘‘We can build on that next year and take some confidence out of that, and that’s our priority – it has been since that time – to get some confidence and build on something so when we come into next year, we’ve got a good start rather than starting from a low base.’’
Irrespective of their finals prospects or ladder position, second-rower Chris Houston said the team would approach their last two games with a win-at-all-costs attitude.
‘‘We go into every game wanting to win it. We’re not going to go in there looking for any other result than a win, whether we can make the finals or not,’’ Houston said.
Impressed with what he had seen of Manly on video in recent weeks, and the live version yesterday only enhanced Bennett’s opinion of the defending premiers.
‘‘I thought they were as good as anybody with credentials right now, I thought,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘They may have taken a bit of hit here today with some injuries, I’m not sure about the seriousness of their injuries, and if they lose a lot of players, then it will be too hard to get that right before the season’s over.
‘‘But certainly their form ... they’re playing the type of footy that wins when it matters.’’