A horror injury toll hasn’t been an excuse for Newcastle all season and it won’t be one as they set their sights on a long-awaited NRL finals shot.
With five weeks to go until the finals, the Knights have been crippled by a suspected ACL injury to five-eighth Blake Green.
He joins Andrew McCullough, Tim Glasby, Connor Watson and Jayden Brailey on the list of season-ending injuries at Newcastle, while Bradman Best and Edrick Lee won’t be back before the finals.
After lauding the Knights’ toughness in a 12-0 win over North Queensland on Sunday – for their third consecutive win – coach Adam O’Brien called on his team to dream big.
Sitting sixth on the ladder and seven points clear of the bottom eight, the Knights look set to break a seven-year finals drought.
“We’re not there yet so I don’t talk about it too much but if all we talk about is just making the finals, and that’s going to be great, we put a ceiling on ourselves straight away,” O’Brien said after Sunday’s victory.
“My mentality would be to just keep playing week in and week out, playing well and get ourselves in there and don’t be content just being a part of it, let’s have a real red-hot crack.
“That’s what the team’s done all year, they’ve had a go.
“You’re not going to get it all your own way at the back end of the year.
“There’s plenty of grit and toughness in them and we certainly need to get a little bit better in some areas, but I’ll take the toughness because that’s what we wanted at the start of the year.”
Making the finals isn’t a pass mark for O’Brien, but a draw against Penrith in round three could be the single competition point that earns them a home final or a second chance.
It comes after Penrith put a bigger gap between themselves and the rest of the competition with their 10th-straight win
Three points ahead of Melbourne, the Panthers are cruising towards the minor premiership after their 38-12 demolition of Cronulla on Friday night.
The Sharks are eighth on the ladder and still yet to to beat a current top-eight side in 2020, although they’re two wins ahead of four teams in the battle for a finals spot.
The Sydney Roosters, Parramatta, Canberra and South Sydney all scored wins, while St George Illawarra and the Warriors have kept their faint finals hopes alive with close victories.