The Knights are set to play their first NRL home finals game since 2006 and coach Adam O'Brien has revealed how the players stuck with him during the brutal down periods. O'Brien's men were languishing in 14th on the ladder after round 19 with only eight games left to make an impression.
In June, the Knights only had five wins to their name and were looking at another season of missing out of the top 8. O'Brien admitted his job was on the line after a tough outing. The rumour mill chugged into full swing after a club official met with recently-ousted Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook behind O'Brien's back.
But in one of the great runs in recent NRL history, the Knights went on an eight game winning streak to finish sixth and set-up a clash against the Raiders at home. The Knights haven't played a finals game at home since 2006.
However, it all could have been different if the playing group fell apart. And star second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon admitted the players were also feeling the pressure as they were looking to turn the corner.
"It was definitely tough, not only for us players but for Adam and his coaching staff," Fitzgibbon told AAP of the speculation. "It's hard to ignore, when that type of media pressure is in the papers. Newcastle's a small town, there's a lot of talk around the town and on the TV.
"It's a bit of the elephant in the room, but we knew we needed to stick solid."
Most prominently, Fitzgibbon revealed the coaching staff and O'Brien never changed their attitude or process during the hard times. Instead, Fitzgibbon said it was up to the players to believe in the process, which has seen the rewards come.
"They haven't changed from what they believed in, what they instilled in us during the pre-season," Fitzgibbon said. "When it did get tough, they didn't go looking for answers that weren't there.
"We couldn't look too far in to what everyone was saying externally about us. We just had to knuckle down, be ourselves and try to put that at the back of our minds and win footy games."
Lachlan Fitzgibbon to lead the Knights
This weekend's clash against the Raiders will also be a special moment for long-time Knights fan Fitzgibbon. The last time the Knights played a home NRL finals game, the second-rower was 12-years old and a diehard fan.
This time, Fitzgibbon will be representing the town in front of a sold out crowd. "I was a Newcastle fan before I was a player. I went to every home game," he said.
"I'll definitely remember this one. I'm looking forward to it, it's obviously been a long time for the town of Newcastle and I can feel everyone's around us."
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