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Knights deny Smith's exit behind slump

By Steve Jancetic 02/08/2009 03:28:20 PM Comments (0)

Senior Newcastle players have rubbished claims that the impending departure of coach Brian Smith is derailing the club's push for an NRL finals berth.

Seemingly certain finalists just a fortnight ago, the Knights have slumped to consecutive losses including a 30-18 defeat to Smith's new club the Sydney Roosters on Saturday night which left Newcastle clinging to eighth spot on the ladder.

With a tough run home that includes home games against fellow would-be finalists Melbourne, North Queensland and Penrith, the Knights know they have to quickly rediscover the form that had them pushing for a top four berth or risk missing out on the finals all together.

"The confidence has taken a little bit of a dent but we're only one game away from a good performance," veteran backrower Steve Simpson said.

"We've just got to go back to doing the things we were doing well earlier in the year ... a few good weeks of training and I think we can turn it around."

Asked if news of Smith's decision to walk out on the last year of his contract in 2010 to link with then Roosters had affected the players, Simpson said: "It hasn't affected me. Maybe some of the younger players it is.

"You don't blame Brian for going, it was an opportunity he couldn't knock back."

There's little doubt the form slump has Smith worried, however, with the veteran coach gambling with skipper Kurt Gidley in the halves against the Roosters with Ben Rogers demoted to the bench.

The move backfired as the Knights attack looked disjointed over the opening 40 minutes, Gidley reverting back to fullback for the second half but it was too little too late with the comeback never eventuating.

"We were thinking and hoping that Kurt's playing in the halves might have started to give us another dimension in our game," Smith said.

"We've thought about doing it a lot of times over the last three years that I've been here.

"Maybe it was the wrong time for that, maybe it was the fact the Roosters played too well for us, but as the game wore on, we needed to do something, we needed to get Benny into the game.

"I think next week you'll find that Kurt will be at fullback and he'll do the things and play the game in the way we've developed our style over the last two-and-a-half years and I hope that does the trick for us."

The win gave the Roosters some hope of avoiding the wooden spoon, the relief evident on coach Brad Fittler's face as he admitted contemplating the prospect of never tasting another NRL win.

To get it against the coach who would be replacing him in 2010 no doubt added to his joy.

"Yeah it crossed my mind, it crossed my mind a couple of times," Fittler said of not winning another game.

"Obviously the circumstances which are going on at the moment made it a little bit sweeter.

"We didn't really use it (the coaching situation as motivation) but maybe it was in the back of their minds ... we were more focused on getting more team morale."

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