Responding to being challenged by coach Nathan Brown, rather than criticism from fans or the media, inspired Newcastle’s 28-14 victory over Parramatta at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
Knights captain Mitchell Pearce summed up his man-of-the-match performance and the enthusiastic efforts of his teammates with this opinion as Newcastle ended their five-game losing streak.
The Knights had been under fire all week after a 38-14 loss to the Gold Coast in round six but Pearce said Brown lit their fuse when he challenged them at a midweek team meeting.
"It’s no secret after the last couple of weeks, Browny challenged our competitive side," Pearce said.
"I wouldn’t say that the boys aren’t competitors, so when you are a competitor and you get challenged, you do get offended. That was obviously the motive and I think we needed to simplify our focus on what matters to win games, and we did that tonight.
"You’ve got to find a dark side in footy, and find some purpose. We found a purpose on competing and playing for a cause as a team, and we got a result."
Pearce scored the match-clinching try with 11 minutes to go, set up another with a grubber for Lachlan Fitzgibbon, and controlled the tempo with his best all-round game this year.
"I’ve been around long enough and had ups and downs and criticism, but you’ve got to thrive on it," Pearce said.
"You’ve got to enjoy it, you’ve got to look at yourself and what you need to do better, and Browny – good coach that he is – he touched on it this week. He said the best way when you’re struggling or down on form is to compete and fight, and your footy comes on the back of that.
"It was great leadership – he guided us with that this week – and that’s what I focused on tonight, and hopefully I did that for my team."
Brown said criticism after the Titans loss was justified but had helped motivate them to be better.
"After our first four games, we lost three by a total of 10 points and the most any opposition scored was Canberra with 17, so we felt we were tracking pretty reasonably in that commitment area," Brown said.
"… But sometimes after a few close losses, it takes a bit of a capitulation to actually understand what works, and from the first five minutes tonight, you could see that if Parramatta were to win they were certainly going to earn it."
Kalyn Ponga and Jesse Ramien suffered shoulder injuries and Sione Mata’utia copped a head knock but returned after passing his HIA. They will be monitored in the lead-up to their game against the Warriors in Auckland next Sunday.