Towering Knights prop Daniel Saifiti was hoping 2018 would be his breakout season in the NRL.
He wanted to start dominating rival teams and take another step forward in his development under coach Nathan Brown.
Instead, by his own admission, the 121kg prop has “gone backwards” and been left frustrated and disappointed with, as he puts it, his failure to make a major impact during the opening 10 rounds of the competition.
With the Knights looking to bounce back from two straight defeats at home when they meet the Titans on the Gold Coast on Saturday, a brutally honest Saifiti told the Newcastle Herald he expected far more from himself.
“I’m not happy. I feel like I was playing much better last year,” a candid Saifiti said.
“I wanted to be ahead of where I was last year but it is just not happening. I probably just thought I could pick up from that and then build on it but it just hasn’t happened.
“If anything, I’ve gone backwards.”
“I’ve sat down with Browny and we both agree that I should be ahead of where I am in my development. It’s up to me to get myself up to where I want to be and where I should be.”
Saifiti, who has only just turned 22, was expected to be one of the chief beneficiaries, along with twin brother Jacob, of the club’s decision to sign experienced veteran props Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman.
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But after coming through an off-season shoulder reconstruction and missing plenty of pre-season training, it has taken Saifiti longer than expected to get into stride.
“It’s probably a mindset thing as well,” he said.
“Maybe, I’ve been guilty of taking a bit of a back seat with a few older frontrowers coming in.
“Last year, I tried to lead the pack and I’ve probably been guilty of letting the other boys do it. I need a bit more aggression and I need to be the one leading this team again. But I’ve rarely done it this year.”
Saifiti, who is his own harshest critic, made 23 tackles and ran for 131 metres from 16 runs off the bench against Penrith last weekend.
In anyone’s language, he’s put in a pretty decent shift.
But he said his errors with the football undid all the good work.
“To drop it cold like that is not what I’m about,”he said.
“I don’t think I have ever done that before. When I’m playing well, I can bring some impact to the team and I just haven’t done that this year.
“I’m confident I can do it – I just need to go out there and believe I can be the strongest runner on the field.”
Saifiti says he is not fazed by the club’s pursuit of frontrowers to strengthen the roster next season and sees the pending signing of Melbourne Storm prop Tim Glasby as something that will inspired him.
“It’s massive. Me coming through personally, I probably haven’t had that star frontrower coming through to really look up to,” he said.
“He’s worked hard at Melbourne and if he does sign here, I’m going to be stoked with the signing. He’s definitely a player I look up to and can learn a lot from.
“It’s definitely motivating that someone who played Origin last year is coming here. He obviously sees something promising here and to have that, it’s going to inspire me to hopefully play beside him next year.”
Aside from improving his own personal performance against a Titans pack that will include another Knights recruitment target in Jarrod Wallace, Saifiti believes defence holds the key to a Knights victory.
“Our defence in the middle has not been up to scratch. Neither has our line speed and we have to improve on that,”he said.
“If we can tighten up in the middle, we trust Lamby [Brock Lamb] and Connor [Watson] and Kalyn [Ponga] to get the job done for us in attack.
“We feel at our best, we can match most forward packs but we are going to have to really aim up this week to beat them.”
Meanwhile, coach Brown said the club was still in the market for frontrowers even with the impending signing of Glasby and is not panicking despite admitting the market is getting smaller.
“What I do know is if you’ve got money and you’ve got a club moving forward, the good players will eventually come and that was proven last year,” he said.
“We are certainly not going to go and all of a sudden undo the work that’s been done to help us move forward and spend the money in the wrong areas to try and get a kill.”