By Andre Cupido (NSWRL.com.au)
Daniel Saifiti is the first to admit his post-Origin form didn’t hit the same heights that earned him a Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues jumper but he believes the experience taught him a valuable lesson he never thought he needed.
Saifiti was called upon by coach Brad Fittler to replace an injured David Klemmer for Game II of the State of Origin series in Perth and on the back of a disheartening 20-14 loss to the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium.
Saifiti had enjoyed a stellar run of form with Newcastle during their seven-game winning streak midway through the season, which included an emphatic 38-12 victory over reigning premier Sydney Roosters.
While they seemingly cemented their premiership credentials with their blistering form, the Knights finished the 2019 season ranked 11th on the competition ladder.
Saifiti admits that he struggled to re-capture his career-best form after the successful Origin series but remains grateful for the valuable lesson the experience taught him.
“I think the six weeks leading into (Origin), it was probably the best footy I’ve played,” Saifiti told the Behind Blue Eyes Podcast.
“I had spoken to ‘Freddy’ in the past during Origin camps and I knew he liked the way I played.
“But my form after it, I wasn’t too happy.
Sign up for a free NRL Account to access this video and other exclusive content.
Not sure? Learn more about NRL Account
“I came out of it, and looking back now, I could have handled it better.
“The things that got me into Origin, (such as) my routine – I probably got a bit comfortable and my form suffered a bit.
“Looking back at the games, you probably couldn’t tell I was an Origin player which is disappointing, but it was a valuable lesson, and probably one I didn’t need, but something I’m definitely going to take into the future.”
The Knights have started their new campaign with two impressive victories over the Warriors and Tigers respectively, before the NRL season was temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.
It seems as though new Knights coach Adam O’Brien has had an immediate impact on Newcastle if their first two performances are any indication – building a defensive resilience with just 24 points conceded in their first two outings.
Saifiti revealed O’Brien delivered a serious wake-up call at one of his first meetings in charge that has ignited a fire amongst the playing squad.
“Adam came in and he was just honest, he said we were good team (but) a good front-running team,” he said.
“That period last year when we won seven in a row, every game we were in-front (on the scoreboard), whereas other teams we versed (and were behind) and lost.
“He said, ‘To me, that’s just mental weakness’.
“At the start of pre-season he just wanted us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and we really focused on our defence.
“We have great attacking players…but defensively we were obviously very bad towards the end of the year so we just changed our mindset a bit, trained harder, and we saw that start of what could be in the first two rounds.”