“This isn’t the time to say I told you so,” the intense Knights coach told reporters this week. “We’ve worked well and it’s a nice feeling, where we are at the moment, but there’s no euphoria or feeling of told you so. There is a much bigger prize.”
After copping a tonne of bad press last year when Smith began a major player clean-out at the Knights, which saw the loss of keyplayers such as Kirk Reynoldson and Clint Newton, Brian Smith is finally enjoying his chance to have the final laugh.
Stretching out and taking their 3rd victory in a row – it’s the first time they have managed three straight since late 2006. Now, the Knights are within striking distance of the play-offs with a month of the regular season to go – although upcoming matches against the Raiders, Cowboys, Storm and Broncos makes it a tightrope run home.
Not even the likely prospect of veteran centre Adam MacDougall missing one match after being slapped with dangerous throw and contrary conduct charges can dampen the warm and fuzzy glow coming out of the Hunter.
But Smith was tempering the mood yesterday, saying the match against the Raiders at Canberra Stadium on Sunday looms as a season-defining one.
“If we can beat Canberra, then the play-offs are achievable,” he said.
Asked if the side’s current form vindicated the sweeping changes he made last year, Smith replied: “I have never felt anything other than what I thought was needed, in terms of retaining or attaining the players we have.”
Newton, who was controversially pushed out as part of Smith’s player purge before earning a start with premiers Melbourne and now plays for Hull in the UK Super League, said the actions of management last year had not been justified. “I’m not going to comment on whether Brian Smith has been vindicated for the changes he made last season,” said the injured second-rower, who will return to England next week.
“Last year was last year. And I will always want the Knights to be successful. But there’s a right and wrong way of doing things and I think the way things were done last year was not right. You can’t help but put a lot of their success down to the form of Kurt Gidley and Danny Buderus.”
On that note, Newton and Smith agree. “The decision to re-sign Kurt Gidley early in the season has been the signing of the season,” Smith said. “Since [chief executive] Steve Burraston locked him up after round one or two, he has improved out of sight.”
MacDougall is expected to plead guilty this morning to grade-one charges for tackles made in the space of 20 seconds against the Titans.
Meanwhile, Knights captain Buderus has teammate Chris Houston to thank for a deep head gash that required several stitches and forced the Leeds-bound leader to wear a swimming cap during a team activities day at a Gold Coast water theme park yesterday.
Buderus said Houston accidentally elbowed him in the head as they were tackling a Titans player shortly before half-time. There were concerns shortly after the game that Buderus had hyperextended his left elbow and suffered a significant injury but he said yesterday that, apart from “the usual bumps and bruises”, he was in good health and a certain starter on Sunday.
“We should get a few of the injured boys back this week and we’ve got another big game in Canberra,” he said. “I’m sure both teams will be up for a big game because we’re both coming off a pretty good performance.”