IN hindsight, it may have been the 10 minutes in purgatory that launched Lachlan Fitzgibbon’s career.
Shortly before half-time in Newcastle’s round-13 clash with Melbourne at AAMI Park, Fitzgibbon was sin-binned for a professional foul.
By the time he returned, Melbourne led 22-6 and the game was as good as gone.
The Storm ended up strolling to a 40-12 victory, and one of the few highlights for the visitors was a consolation try by Fitzgibbon in the 72nd minute, after chasing down a Dane Gagai grubber kick.
It was enough for the 23-year-old back-rower to retain his spot. Nine games later, he is still in Newcastle’s starting team and improving incrementally each week.
“Every game I play, I’m growing in confidence,’’ Fitzgibbon said on Friday. “But that Melbourne game, I think I’d only played six or seven games at that point. Going up against such a good side and doing all right, it was a big boost for me.”
After winning only one of his first 14 games in the top grade, the South Newcastle junior has relished consecutive victories against St George Illawarra, the Warriors and Parramatta.
“Winning’s a great feeling,’’ he said. “It’s infectious. It never gets old.”
Off contract at the end of this season, Fitzgibbon is leaving negotiations to his management, but Knights coach Nathan Brown said an offer has been made and the club is eager to retain him.
Meanwhile, Storm coach Craig Bellamy says it would be folly to underestimate a Newcastle team who have “learned how to win” in the past three weeks.
The Storm will be looking to wrap up the minor premiership at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday against the Knights, who are last on the ladder but have given themselves hope of avoiding a third straight wooden spoon.
"Newcastle have done a tremendous job this year with where they came from last year," Bellamy said.
"They had a few games there that they just lost after having good leads.
“But the last three weeks they look like they have learned how to win and done a tremendous job.
“It will be a real tough game up there for us."
In particular, Bellamy said he had noted how strongly the Knights have been starting their games.
“If we don’t prepare well, we’re going to be in for a shock on the weekend,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Knights officials hope to know within days whether their bid to sign veteran Brisbane forward Adam Blair has been successful.
Blair visited Newcastle last weekend to inspect the city and training facilities, but he is also understood to be weighing up offers from the Warriors, St George Illawarra and another Sydney club.
Knights coach Nathan Brown said this week he believed “the Warriors are clear favourites to get him”.
The Warriors are reportedly willing to offer the veteran a four-year contract, one season more than Newcastle.
Blair will turn 32 early next season but the Knights believe his experience, leadership and will to win would enhance their young squad.