Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has urged his skipper Mitchell Pearce to take a more selfish approach to helping the side end a six game losing streak against North Queensland at McDonald Jones Stadium today.
The Knights are still clinging to a faint hope of playing finals footy this season but can't afford to drop any of their remaining four games if they are to give themselves a chance, starting with an under-strength Cowboys side that won't have key forwards Jason Taumalolo [injured] or Josh McGuire [suspended].
The Knights will be missing the experience of Origin forward Tim Glasby with Josh King called into the squad for his 50th NRL game.
In a further positional change, winger Kurt Mann has been shifted back to the bench with Sione Mata'utia to start in the centres and versatile Hymel Hunt moving from right centre to left wing.
Pearce's form has dipped since Origin lll, coinciding with the Knights' run of outs, and Brown believes a more internal focus from his captain is the key if he is to lead the side to victory.
He wants to see his halfback concentrating on himself rather than worrying about the rest of the team.
"Pearcey's biggest fault is he takes too much on himself," Brown said.
"The key for him is understanding the players he is playing with here, what he needs to do to help them play well. That's generally really focusing hard on his own game and if he gets that bit right and not worries about anybody else, he generally plays very well for us."
Brown said Pearce's form during the middle part of this season was unrivaled in the competition.
"During that 10 week period, I don't think there was a more influential player in the comp," he said.
"So he just needs to focus on getting himself right and not being worried about too many other people. When he gets that, his energy's good and he plays well and the other people play well.
"If Pearcey's form is off a little bit, it can have an effect on the group. If he gets his game going good to solid, generally the other blokes get a real opportunity to play."
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Brown expects Knights fans will see the best out of fullback Kalyn Ponga against his former club after a couple of games where he hasn't been as dominant in attack.
"With KP, he's had a couple of quieter games but if he just focuses on carrying the football, he'll be fine and he'll bounce back and play very well," he said.
Brown said his players don't need reminding about the importance of the game.
"It's obviously our last throw at the stumps," he said.
"They know where we are sitting so you can deny it or hide from it but the facts are the facts. We all know a win is the only result that can keep our season alive. At this level, you'd be hoping it brings out the best in the players. There is so much to play for and with our form at home being four very good wins and half a dozen very close losses, it's a game where we'd certainly like to reward those great fans of ours as well."