Knights will not concede finals race

HIS coach has talked down their finals prospects all season but playmaker Jarrod Mullen refuses to concede the Knights are out of play-off contention.

Newcastle are 11th on 24 points and have a for-and-against points differential of minus 20 after their 42-20 loss to defending premiers Manly at Brookvale Oval on Sunday.

They need a miracle to make the top eight, starting with convincing wins against the Cowboys at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday and Rabbitohs at Hunter Stadium the following Friday in their last two games of the regular season.

The Knights would also need an unlikely sequence of results to go their way from games involving the teams above them, and the Broncos (26 points), Tigers (26), Raiders (26) and Titans (24) all play a lower-ranked side in the next two weeks.

Speaking after the loss to the Sea Eagles, coach Wayne Bennett said that the team’s mediocre form in the first half of the year, and the early loss of skipper Kurt Gidley to a season-ending shoulder injury, meant they had given up too much ground to the leading contenders.

‘‘We haven’t put ourselves in the finals equation at any time – not this coach anyway. 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,’’ Bennett said on Sunday.

But Mullen said at the team’s recovery session yesterday that the players were still chasing a finals berth, even if it was a long-shot.

‘‘There’s only a couple of games to go, and hopefully if we can win them both, we can get into the finals, but we just need to get our starts right,’’ Mullen said.

‘‘I think you can see in our footy, we’re never giving up, and that’s in terms of the table too.

‘‘If we can win our next two and other results go our way, we might sneak in there, but we’re not going to win them if we’re going to keep starting the way we did on the weekend, so we’re going to have to come out firing on Saturday.’’

Trailing 38-4 at half-time after conceding seven first-half tries, the Knights offered more resistance in the second half against an injury-ravaged Manly side reduced to no reserves.

Newcastle scored three tries in 12minutes, including one by Mullen, and he even dared to dream of an impossible victory. Mullen said the second-half performance was typical of the way the Knights had responded positively to adverse scenarios all season.

‘‘I’ve been in situations where you’re getting beaten by that at half-time and you do go on and get beaten by 60, so it shows there’s good resolve in the team that we did come back,’’ Mullen said.

‘‘For a fleeting moment there, I thought we were going to come back and win the game, but it wasn’t to be. That momentum kept swinging their way.

‘‘Obviously midway there, when we lost five in a row, that wasn’t the highlight of our season.

‘‘But to come back and fight back the way we did and to show some real promise towards the back end of the year, if it’s not to be this year, hopefully we can build on that towards next year.’’

Centre Timana Tahu said Bennett had conditioned the Knights to look no further than their next game and they would take the same approach this week as they prepare for the trip to Townsville to play the sixth-placed Cowboys.

‘‘We’re moving on. We’ve got two games left, and we want to win these two games,’’ Tahu said.

‘‘We’re not just going up to North Queensland for a holiday then wait until the Friday night against Souths. We want to play these two games as hard as we can then see what happens after that.

‘‘I think that’s something Wayne doesn’t try to instil in us, when the door’s a little bit open or halfway open, that we can get into the top eight.

‘‘It’s more about us worrying about ourselves and playing well and trying to win games. That’s been our main focus for the last couple of weeks.’’

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