Mitchell Pearce painted a dim picture of what he believes has been the real difference between the Knights and the NRL's premiership heavyweights after a sixth straight loss on Saturday night to the Eels left his side's finals hopes on life support.
"The best teams have the sort of resilience and desire we showed tonight every week for 80 minutes," he said. "That's the big difference. Where was that effort from us over the past four or five weeks? How do you explain it - I can't. But when it all boils down, it's why we aren't going to make the eight."
- Pearce said everyone was hurting after the 20-14 defeat to Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium left the Knights three points out of the top eight and needing four consecutive wins and a few other results to go their way to have any hope of playing finals footy. A far more likely scenario now is Newcastle will be without footy in mid to late September for the sixth consecutive year.
Prop David Klemmer, placed on report in the final minute for raising his forearm, was left frustrated and angry and didn't want to talk after the game while back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon was emotional and in tears.
Pearce said he was yet to process his side's likely fate.
"Its all a bit surreal at the moment and hasn't really sunk in," he said. "Ask me tomorrow how I feel. You train all year for it and we've let ourselves down. We let our standards slip these last six weeks."
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It was billed as a must-win game for the Knights and their effort reflected it. But it still wasn't enough to get the job done. Possession proved to be the key. The Eels had too much of it and the Knights not enough. The best stat to illustrate it was Parramatta had the ball for eight minutes longer than the Knights. That equated to 10 full sets more. When they did have the footy, the Knights were mostly rucking it out from their own end and struggled to leave an imprint on the Eels defence.
"We basically only had two good ball sets for 60 minutes there and we scored off two kicks. Other than that, I thought they pinned us in the corner a lot and when it mattered at the end when we were chasing the game, we had four or five errors that just isn't good enough.
"When you haven't had the possession, any error gets magnified and is highlighted more because you just don't get the opportunities."
For a fleeting moment early in the second half , the Knights did give their fans, who traveled down to Bankwest Stadium in big numbers, a reason for optimism.
Trailing 8-2 at halftime, Pearce and Kalyn Ponga came up with two cross-field kicks that produced tries for Mitch Barnett and Shaun Kenny-Dowall in the opening seven minutes of the second half. Suddenly, it was 14-8 with the Knights appearing capable of an upset.
But the Eels found another gear at home and responded with two tries of their own to regain the ascendancy. Trailing by four, the Knights needed composure down the stretch to mount a final assault but were cruelled by their own errors.