Prosper or perish? Knights captain Mitchell Pearce expects that question to be answered during the next month as they navigate a stretch of games against teams in a similar situation to themselves.
Newcastle players were subjected to a sombre review session on Monday as coach Nathan Brown dissected their second-half capitulation against the Roosters at the SCG.
Trailing 18-10 midway through the second half, Newcastle self-destructed and conceded five converted tries in a 17-minute stretch as the Roosters romped home 48-10.
It was Newcastle’s third straight defeat and leaves them clinging to eighth position on 18 points after they looked like top-four candidates a month ago.
Starting with 12th-placed Wests Tigers (16) at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night, Newcastle face a string of matches against teams also jostling for the last few play-off positions.
They travel to Campbelltown on August 24 for a rematch with Wests Tigers, and sandwiched between are games against fifth-placed Manly (22) at Lottoland, sixth-placed Parramatta (20) at Bankwest Stadium and 13th-placed North Queensland (16) in Newcastle.
“We’re in not a bad position, and this next four weeks is the season really,” Pearce told reporters on Monday before joining his team-mates to sift through the wreckage of the Roosters rout.
“That’s the exciting part. I’m sure today there will be a bit of negativity, no doubt, after the review, and it should be, but we’ll move on and get ready for the Tigers.
“It was always going to be negative today. We had a bad loss, we know what we need to do and we need to get back on track.
“In four weeks’ time, if we’re going well, it will be all positive. If not, we’re not going to be in a good position, so we need to turn it around at training this week, learn from our mistakes, get everyone back on board and start winning again.”
Pearce was pleased with how the Knights battled for an hour against the premiers “but the way the game finished and the way the game blew out, we’re disappointed with that”.
“You can’t drop your standards and bring that looseness into your game, so it’s something we need to tidy up,” he said.
“This next month is massive, and all those teams we’re playing are probably in the same situation and we’re all around the same spot.
“Every game is hard now. Like I said, this is the exciting part of the year and it’s about how much you want it, and if you want it, you’re going to get the results.
“You don’t lose yourself over two weeks … so we’ve got to re-create what we’ve been doing."
Pearce’s halves partner Kurt Mann said the Knights must play with the right attitude for 80 minutes.
“I think we’ve got to get that steely mentality back that we had for that seven-week block where we were playing pretty good footy,” Mann said.
“I think that’s something that we’ve sort of lost a little bit lately, so it’s probably something that we’ve got to get back.”
Mann wants the Knights to respond the same way they did after lopsided losses to Gold Coast and Melbourne earlier this year.
A week after being embarrassed 38-14 by the Titans at Robina, the Knights turned their season around by eclipsing Parramatta 28-14 in Newcastle.
It was a similar scenario when they rebounded from a 34-4 mauling from Melbourne by beating Brisbane 26-12 at their next start.
“That’s something that a lot of NRL teams and professional sports teams are good at,” Mann said.
“Once you do cop a big loss, I think everyone does a fair bit of soul-searching and puts in a big effort and a big performance the next week.
“It all depends how we turn up next week – I guess that’s the big question there – but it’s definitely something that could turn a season.”
Meanwhile, Pearce said the team owed it to dual premiership-winning former Knights centre Mark Hughes to be at their best against Wests Tigers as part of the NRL’s Beanies for Brain Cancer Round to raise funds for the Mark Hughes Foundation.
“I’m really excited and all the boys are looking forward to it,” Pearce said.
“Obviously it’s a massive day for Mark, especially. ‘Browny’ touched on it briefly after the [Roosters] game, and we’ve got to turn up and do our part for it this week.”