When Daniel Saifiti regains his place in Newcastle's starting pack, he wants to do it by kicking the door down, not because someone opened it for him.
The giant Fijian international has accepted his bench role supporting starting middle forwards David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and James Gavet as part of his education but he would prefer to be in the thick of things from the kick-off – as long as he has earned the right.
Two games back after suffering a knee injury in Newcastle's 14-8 first-round victory over Cronulla, the 22-year-old prop has again been named on the bench for the game against Gold Coast at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday, but he is nipping at the heels of the three players in front of him.
In 53 minutes off the bench against Manly last Saturday, Saifiti ran 13 times for 130 metres and made 30 tackles. He was one of only a handful of Newcastle players exempt from significant criticism after their 26-18 loss.
"He can't be too far away, that's for sure," coach Nathan Brown said at his weekly media conference in Newcastle on Tuesday.
"He's started the year really well and we're really proud of what he's done away from footy.
"He's had a great pre-season, and he's probably just starting to deliver what we probably always all thought he could, so if he's not starting, he's not far off."
Since his debut in 2016, when he started four of 20 games, Saifiti became a regular in Newcastle's run-on side. He started 35 times in 44 games in 2017-2018, finishing last season as one of their pack leaders, but Brown has preferred Klemmer, Glasby and Gavet to show the way this year.
"Timmy Glasby, Jimmy Gavet and obviously David Klemmer, they're three world-class middles," Saifiti told reporters after training on Wednesday.
"I'm younger. I wouldn't say I'm learning my craft – I know my craft now – but I just want to play consistent footy.
"If I have to stay behind those three before I'm starting putting my hand up, it is what it is, but I'm a firm believer in you pick yourself. I shouldn't have to wait for someone to play bad, I just have to do my job coming off the bench and I think things will fall into place."
Saifiti feared his season was over when he hobbled off against the Sharks but he only missed two games and returned in Newcastle's extra-time loss to the Dragons on April 7.
"My first two games back have been reasonable, but not my best, so they're two performances I can build off. I was shown some video today on what I can improve on," he said.
Can Pearce handle pressure?
The Knights trailed 12-0 when Saifiti took the field against Manly, then 18-0 one minute later after Joel Thompson scored from a Jake Trbojevic grubber.
It was only the second time in any game this season that the Knights have trailed by double figures but it sowed the seeds for a fourth straight loss. Though he could not explain Newcastle's slow start, Saifiti said they could not afford similar sluggishness against the Titans on Sunday.
"Coming into a game, if we're up, we've got to keep the momentum going that the boys have started, but it's different coming in 18-0 down," he said.
"It's obviously not ideal, but at the end of the day you have to go in and do a job.
"Sometimes you go out there and it's like a bad dream. Nothing's going your way, and you're clawing back but you're not really controlling the ruck and everything's going past you real quick.
"I'm not sure, like all the others have said, you can't really put your finger on it, but we definitely can't let that happen again, that's for sure."