Visiting Alex McKinnon may have provided inspiration but Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett says his team is no closer to rediscovering the character that booked them a surprise 2013 NRL preliminary final.
Bennett and a group of Knights players visited McKinnon in a Sydney spinal rehabilitation ward last week and were buoyed to learn the injured backrower had shown small improvement with movement.
“He’s been really good and the boys were pleased to see him,” Bennett said of McKinnon, who had his neck broken in a lifting tackle last month.
“You want to see the improvement but it is just so far for him to go right now.
“No one is getting too carried away with it.
“But everyone is pleased every day we get a report saying something else is feeling better – at least good things are happening for him.”
Barely three days after the visit, the Knights were thrashed 32-6 by Brisbane in Newcastle on Good Friday to leave them 14th on the ladder with just two wins from seven games.
Ahead of Saturday night’s away clash with the Bulldogs, Bennett admitted he was still wondering where the character of last year had gone.
Newcastle shocked the NRL in 2013 when they upset the Storm in Melbourne to progress to a preliminary final against eventual premiers Sydney Roosters.
“Of course I am wondering where it is,” Bennett said.
“It’s been a battle for us to get it back.
“You sometimes wonder where it comes from and then wonder where it goes.
“But I said to them this morning our last four games … we’ve had one bad one but three were pretty acceptable performances.
“I think we are getting on top of it, we just need to start winning some games.”
Newcastle could also benefit from having something their next opponent has in abundance – good fortune.
The Bulldogs have won the last three games in one-point thrillers.
“We haven’t been playing with a lot of luck,” Bennett said.
“Sometimes luck runs with you and sometimes it runs against you.”
Meanwhile, Bennett said ex-NSW prop Kade Snowden (concussion) would return in what may be a straight swap for Willie Mason who faces suspension after being charged with a grade-two shoulder charge.
Bennett is considering resting Kiwi international lock Jeremy Smith who has been carrying a knee injury all season.