After a controversial and potentially distracting week, the Knights bounced back at Cumberland Oval in their best performance for weeks.
Not good enough, but it's certainly an improvement. Defence was solid for large chunks of the match, as it had to be, as field position was almost impossible to come by. Their problem was grinding out enough metres to turn the tables and take the game to the Eels. This is not a new challenge.
For my two bobs' worth, it seems the team is playing predictably, marching up the middle third of the field into the teeth of the opposition. Maybe a little subterfuge from time to time or the occasional short-side raid is required. What have we got to lose?
Knights by six.
THIS WEEK'S TOP 8
1. For some time calls for an increased use of the sin bin for illegal play and professional fouls have been clarion. The NRL took note and, like a kid with a new toy, referees have obliged. Now it's fair to say they've over-shot the mark, sending players for some thinking time over issues that aren't immediately obvious, if at all. A number of examples have emerged in recent weeks, leaving many scratching their heads. Maybe it's as simple as having an option allowing a five-minute penalty. That way, if it's marginal of the professional kind, referees can still make their point without unduly influencing outcomes.
2. A total of 12 wins from 24 matches plus a bye (26 points) will qualify as the semi-final cut-off this season. With the current top six likely to stay that way, all eyes are on those vying for seventh and eighth positions. As it stands, the Panthers need two wins from their last four, the Broncos, Sharks and Tigers need three, and the Warriors and the Knights need to beat everyone in front of them. Apart from their last game against Panthers, the Knights have possibly the easier path, while the rest play each other and top four sides. Can the Knights still make it? Mathematically speaking, absolutely.
3. There has been a lot of talk around the coaching performance of the year. After an impressive turnabout in fortunes, Dessy Hasler has joined Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson. A big finish wouldn't hurt Brad Arthur's chances either, but for me, if Canterbury were to nail two or three of their final games, you couldn't go past poor the old hangdog himself, Dean Pay. Handed a crack at a roster in turmoil, the early rounds were lamentable, winning three of their first 14 games. Ambition quickly gave way to team development and the results are there to see. With four healthy wins from their past six outings, they could upset the run to the finals of a few teams yet.
4. Owing to the futility, I've left the question of "scrums" to one side for the last couple of years. It's an old joke. But lo and behold, last week the Roosters and the Raiders started to hold the ball in the scrum, forcing for the first time in years, an offside penalty the referees acknowledged. OMG! The dog's breakfast known as a scrum in the modern game might finally have found some relevance. Dare I say it, the scrum is back? What next, bind tightly?
5. The two big games last Sunday drove me to distraction. I found myself preoccupied with the inconsistent policing of the play-the-ball. More specifically, the variety of techniques and methods by which tacklers use to slow the process of restarting play are officially out of control. Unfortunately this practice is the basis upon which the best teams achieve success, leading to copycat efforts across the competition. A race to the bottom that referees are unable to subdue, the practice will continue for the foreseeable future. A pity for lovers of a fast contest.
6. Not to be left behind, the NRL adopted the AFL practice of fining footballers as a means of extracting some blood in circumstances where a charge doesn't meet a criteria or is on the low end of the scale. Sounds good in principle but can be messy. Take Michael Gordon's stroll from the field after a sin-binning a couple of weeks back. A little slow so he copped a $2000 fine. Sam Burgess chins Matt Moylan enough to consign him to the medical ward for a couple of weeks and he settles for a $1900 fine. One hopes the monies collected from these nefarious miscreants are diverted to a worthy cause, rather than back into the NRL coffers.
7. The best tacklers of last week delivered the most exciting viewing for this old fan. From diminutive Warriors five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita to the colossal Josh Papalii, technique, timing and a little audacity brought the crowds to their feet, time and again. None of the "catch and grab" shuffle for these blokes. Problem is, unless you finish the tackle off perfectly, with attendant "floppers", the classic style hands the initiative to the ball-runner via a quick play-the-ball. Surely these textbook, and arguably safer, methods deserve to be rewarded with some discretionary support from refs.
8. Danny Buderus elevated to the Hall of Fame. Who would have thought it when Bedsy ventured to the big smoke from Taree as a 15-year-old.
Eventually making his name as a hooker after Australian hooker Steve Walters retired midway through 1999, the young apprentice couldn't have had a better mentor when scrums were a frightening experience for the uninitiated.
Overcoming every challenge put in front of him, he went on to record 257 games with his beloved Knights, as well as multiple Origin and Test appearances.
His humble demeanour rarely changed as he gave his best on every stage. Remembering this week the veritable village of people who gave him the opportunity to be the best, he typically deflected.
But it was his determination and self-belief alone, to make the best of that opportunity, that has elevated him into the pantheon of legends.
Well deserved, champion.