LISTEN to Tony Butterfield's view on the Nathan Brown resignation.
The Knights are back. They have a pulse.
Not the greatest of opposition last week, admittedly, but there is life in this season yet. Soul-restoring, it was the two competition points on the ladder that mattered most, giving cause for a spring in their step in preparation for Saturday's do-or-die affair at Campbelltown. Our forwards improved to build a platform on which Ponga, Pearce, Kenny-Dowall and Mata'utia played themselves into some form. But they need to dig further. Taking on the Tigers on paper seems a less formidable prospect, given their injury dramas mounting, but the Benji factor is always a risk.
They're playing for sheep stations from here on.
Knights by two.
This week's top 8
1. Top performance of the week goes to the Raiders. Never have the Storm been quelled in Melbourne in such a fashion, leading 18-0 with two Canberra players in the bin. An aberration at the citadel and a sign that the Storm are beatable, if you bring the business.
It's in this arena Ricky Stuart thrives. Imbued with confidence, players have leave to play what they see, on strict condition it's done fast, in numbers, and you catch everything thrown at you. Defensively they are the biggest improvers from 2018. Together, Ricky thinks he's got the package just right for a tilt at the premiership.
2. I mentioned Dean Pay last week as a sentimental roughie for coach of the year after the Bulldogs' recent revival. Taking down the Bunnies has only firmed his price. Without Jack Cogger, Pay relied on Lachlan Lewis, a heck of a smart player with a few rough edges but a big future. Exactly what Doggies fans need to hear as they go about dashing a few more hopes.
3. Jack de Belin has abandoned his Federal Court challenge of the NRL's stand-down rule changes, having learned his rape trial will start in March. Characterised by his lawyer Marcus Einfield SC as "harsh, unfair and draconian", the stand-down policy has impacted on three NRL players so far. (Two of whom didn't even qualify for the "11-year sentence" trigger criteria so heavily relied upon by the NRL in the court of public opinion back in March.) The common-law rights of those two were swept up in the less examined, "discretionary powers" vested in the NRL CEO. Fair dinkum, talk about give an inch, take a mile. The NRL should go back to where they should have started: with the players' association and a more considered approach.
4. For the longest time, the mighty Melbourne Storm have been the benchmark. On and off the field their people set the standards other teams strive to emulate and counter, usually falling short. Last week a war of words erupted where Souths had the temerity to question the Storm's acknowledged position as the best wrestlers in the game, a benchmark they work tirelessly toward, one assumes. They were naturally offended, publicly, but one suspects privately their wrestling advisors would have taken great pride. Truth be told, everyone wrestles. It's an industry. Storm just do it better. Somehow, it's the centrepiece of the modern game. Rudderless, those in charge have incrementally mainstreamed it through the juniors so they know no different. What's the future game look like from here?
5. In contrast, you couldn't but be impressed with the way in which the Roosters disposed of the outgunned Warriors. Brutal efficiency shines through the middle, led by form front-rower, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
A little wider, Angus Crichton and Victor Radley are a constant menace. But it's their Ferrari-like backs that more often get the job done. Arguably the biggest, fastest and most enterprising backline of the modern era, they're nearly impossible to defend against when they're on. Special shout out to Latrell Mitchell for slapping down the online drop-kicks of last week to post 18 points on his own.
6. Cameron Smith produced a technique against Canberra that looked more like the old "head vice" I used to get from my brothers in the 1970s. Bemused by the response or that he was caught, it was an uncomfortable look for the Australian skipper in a week where the Storm organisation screamed from the Rialto "not us". Or was it: "Not just us?"
On this occasion, there was nothing legitimate about the tackle assist. Quite the contrary, as Smith knelt beside Raiders winger Bailey Simonsson, almost cradling his head and channelling his best James Bond move to incapacitate. Maybe I'm wrong? Cut it out, legend.
7. Thoughts go out to big Matty Scott of the Cowboys in his recovery over the coming weeks and months. Many of us, unfortunately, know a thing or two about health shocks and send our best to him and his family. The best front-rower of his era, few ran harder, played the ball faster or belted players the world over more often than this bloke when he was pumped. Probably played his last game in Newcastle last week, which is our great honour.
8. Shortly, my old mate from his Dragons days, Nathan Brown, will bundy off from his 48th monthly shift as head coach of the Newcastle Knights.
He'll take a well-earned deep breath, then get on with living. Thanks for the service comrade. Best and good health to you and family.
That said, it was not totally unexpected news this week, although apparently it was Nathan's decision to resign for the good of all, duly accepted by the club. And we move on as friends. That'll do me. I suppose. Meanwhile, in the here and now the Knights have a date with the semi-finals if they want it bad enough.
Browny's last job is to steer his team through the next three weeks and into the light. Until then, players need to keep their heads down and stay focused on doing their best, until told to stop.