The top of the table NYC Newcastle Knights are set to face two of the most important games of the season with the minor premiership hanging in the balance.
The Knights will be looking to secure a victory over the Parramatta Eels on Saturday to guarantee a lead into the final round against the St George Dragons next weekend.
If the team, which has held it’s number one position for the majority of the year, secures the minor premiership, it will be the first for the Club since the inception of the National Youth Competition in 2008.
The dominating NYC side is a testament to the calibre of the Knights’ young talent with three of its members making their NRL debut and two of the Club’s SG Ball players joining the run-on squad in the back end of the season.
For consistent back rower, Lachlan Fitzgibbon it’s important to focus on the job at hand this weekend against the Eels and not take too much confidence out of the Knights’ win against the side earlier in the season.
“They didn’t have their two halves last time and they have them back this time, so it should be a hard encounter,” he said.
“We have a few boys back from NRL, Joey (Tapine) and Jake (Mamo) so it will be interesting to see how we go."
Fitzgibbon says the Eels are renowned for their size and strength.
“A lot of sides are big in 20s, but Parra especially," he added.
“It’s always good facing the big boys, but we have a few big boys of our own so they should shape up nicely.
“It will definitely be exciting to see how we go.”
Fitzgibbon believes one of the defining elements that’s contributed to the team’s success on the field is the bond the teammates share.
“The bond has been there all year, I think that’s credit to how we’ve gone all season,” he said.
“In the back end of the season it's been even better because everyone is even tighter because you want to win just that little bit more.”
And then there’s the young talent who have shot up in the back end of the season to provide a spark for the team.
Sixteen-year-old Jack Cogger has made his mark in the short time since making his debut in Round 22.
A highlight for the young halfback so far was his debut match when the team earned a 38-0 victory over the Melbourne Storm
“I see a lot of NYC games are high scoring games between both teams, but to come out first game and win 38-0 against a fairly good opposition, it was definitely the highlight so far," he said.
“I’m hoping for a few more heading into the semis.
Cogger feels well prepared for Saturday’s match and says the team will rise to the occasion at Hunter Stadium.
“They (Eels) are sitting up the top right behind us, but the boys are ready for it and I’m sure we’ll go out there coming off a loss last week looking for a bit of redemption,” he said.
“Hopefully we keep pushing on in semi finals and we stay in a bit of form and finish off the season well.”
The Knights are also sure to receive a boost from Tapine, who looks forward to his return to the U20s side after playing in the NRL last week.
“I expect a hard game from the team we’re playing and we’re going to be playing 100 per cent,” he said.
“I expect a win, but we are going to be fighting for it.
“It’s always daunting coming up against bigger sides and Parramatta is definitely one of them.
“We have to try to our game plan and tire out those big boys and prepare for that.
“It’s a good test for the boys and it’s coming into the fun side of the competition where you have to get the win."
The young forward has kept a close eye on the team when playing up in first grade and has praised new additions Lamb and Cogger for their positive impact on the team.
“They are two solid halves for the future,” Tapine said.
“They are good at organising, even though they are new they talk to the boys.
“They execute plays well together too."
Tapine said at this stage of the season with a final game against the St George Dragons following the Eels, the team is already preparing for what it needs to deliver if it makes the finals.
“These two tests are going to be a big challenge for us," he said.