The Knights' prospects in the race for the semi-finals have taken a couple of hits this past fortnight.
Losing to the Warriors with an under-strength line-up, unsettled through Origin commitments, was no disgrace. But the six-point defeat by last-placed Canterbury will have been hard to cop. No doubt everyone slumped in the home dressing-room last week would have agreed the game was winnable on numerous occasions. Instead the Bulldogs found the enthusiasm and flair enough to give coach Dean Pay a reprieve from the chop, so popular around this time of year.
If only Novocastrian Garth Brennan could say the same, after he was unceremoniously scapegoated as the Gold Coast hit rock bottom. Who'd be a coach?
Next for the Knights is a trip to the spiritual home of rugby league to take on the premiers at the SCG on Saturday. In the context of the season, games don't get much bigger. Up to four pursuing teams will jump all over the Knights if they trip up.
But enough of a glass half-empty. Mitch Barnett's return can't come soon enough, while Kalyn Ponga's resumption draws a collective sigh of relief for fans. All up, a great opportunity to take on a club nemesis, in their coop, and beat them up. 'Cause that's what needs to happen if Browny's boys are to succeed.
This week's top 8
1. It was great while it lasted, but the Origin triumph a week or so back is consigned to history. Two straight Origin series marks Freddy Fittler's Blues as worthy recipients of acclaim as they ever so slowly tighten their grip on redemption from years of Queensland dominance - a gesture not nearly adequately returned, just yet. The annual circus with Freddy as the inimitable ringmaster will be back in town next year. But for now, we return to normal transmission.
2. The NRL season countdown is on as every competition point takes on far greater significance. At this stage it looks a race in two, with last year's grand finalists a logical choice to repeat. That said, others have definite designs on a crucial top-four finish. Behind them, however, lurk a posse of hopefuls, mostly aiming for a solid finish as opposed to fluking a premiership. With eight matches remaining, it becomes a numbers game from here.
3. The Broncos v Warriors draw probably ended both their hopes last week. The first for three seasons, the measly one point makes the semis a bridge too far. Languishing on 15 points, their saving grace may be a probable cut-off this year of 28 points, based on the spread of points at the moment. Still, collecting 13 points (or 81 per cent wins) along the way is unlikely. I think we can draw a line.
4. That leaves the Knights chasing a minimum of five wins from eight games. Not impossible, but as noted above, a loss tomorrow would make it that much harder. Thankfully, those in our rear-vision mirror are facing similar form-related problems, which could leave final placings undecided again until the last round. Staring down the barrel of a potential top-four finish only a month ago, it's do or die in the weeks ahead.
5. The cricket World Cup final debacle prompts the perennial question as NRL play-offs appear on the horizon: how, again, are the finals decided if scores are tied? Compared with the 50-over cricket "balls-up", the NRL have settled in recent years on common sense - a full five minutes each-way. If unresolved, it's first scorer wins. A solid and fair system that fans and players can accept.
Not so in the cricket world, as our hearts go out to our Kiwi brothers and sisters after losing their second straight World Cup final. This time, in a most crushing and unsporting manner. Whether a stuff-up by the umpires or a technicality, it's just not cricket. Bizarre really. The manner of the "victory" won't amuse some, casting doubt over any obligatory Queen's honours this time around.
6. The Jared Waerea-Hargreaves flying head butt on Josh McGuire must have been a scary sight for the Cowboys' alpha-piglet last week. Already stunned by the ferocity of the initial contact, both would have worked out their melons were again on a collision course, leading to the offending contact. Did Waerea-Hargreaves mean it? I suspect so. But, what else could he do? That's what he does. Worthy of a week off but instead, our Knights forwards get to exact their own retribution after his recent similar incident involving Kalyn Ponga. Excellent!
7. Straight-laced Queenslander and ARL Commissioner Mark Coyne has broken the shackles of his otherwise perfect track record. The successful businessman has been able to keep his nose clean over the years, causing some to question whether he is fair dinkum at all. That all changed when he annoyed the police in spotless Singapore a month or so back. Nothing major, but enough for a night in the cells and weeks without a passport. Talk of dumping him from the commission would be knee-jerk and unnecessary. What's he done? Sworn at a couple of coppers with a few bevvies under his belt, after being arrested for who knows what. If anything, his escapades add a little character to an otherwise bucolic bunch in need of some street cred, urgently.
8. After the school holidays and the big wet, it's time for local footy players to get back to training. Time also to be thinking semi-final football. Some are well placed, while others need to win even this week, or their hopes are blown. Most pleasing to see kids of all ages putting the hours in over school holidays in "pick-up" games. While official training is the structured time for our kids to improve their skills, it's the hours spent ad-libbing with mates that has helped all of their heroes ascend to greater glory. Keep it up.