FORMER captain Danny Buderus is convinced the Knights are back in the title hunt because of the character they showed in their gritty 18-12 victory over the Bulldogs in Mackay on Sunday.
The 35-year-old former NSW and Australian hooker played an inspirational role to help the Knights fight back from a 12-8 deficit early in the second half and go on to register successive wins for just the third time this season.
The Knights are sixth on 18 points and will remain within striking distance of the top four when they bank two more points from their second bye next weekend.
After that, they face a tough eight-game block against the Panthers (A), Roosters (H), Broncos (H), Sharks (A), Storm (H), Cowboys (A), Broncos (A) and Eels (H) in the run to the finals.
“That was a big four-point game for us with the bye coming up, so we’re back in the competition,” Buderus said.
“It was a hard road trip, especially at this time of the season, so we were out of our comfort zone. It was something out of the ordinary, but we found a way to win in the end. So I’m proud of the guys.
“We’re getting a healthy squad together and we want to get some momentum going at this time of the season. So hopefully we can have a good run home and stay in that semi-final race.
“It’s very tight, and we’ve got to be – I hate the word – consistent. But that’s a win away from home for us, which is a monkey off our back a little bit. We can now look forward to Penrith away after the bye – and they’ll be very tough.”
Buderus said the Knights felt their backs were against the wall when NSW centre Josh Morris beat four Newcastle defenders to score in the 44th minute and give the Bulldogs a 12-8 lead.
It took his determined try from dummy half in the 60th minute to put the Knights back in front for good. Then his tackle to shut down Ben Barba’s kick return four minutes later proved significant.
Instead of conceding field position, the Knights remained on the front foot in Canterbury territory and kicked six points clear when Chris Houston scooped up Jarrod Mullen’s cross-field bomb to score his second try four minutes later.
“I was disappointed with our first half because we just couldn’t find our points where we wanted to attack from, and we couldn’t get any continuity or flow in the game through dropped balls,” Buderus said.
“We just didn’t have anything to build off, which was disappointing, but we gritted it out.
“In the second half, we let in that soft try and it didn’t look good for us. So we had to dig ourselves out of that hole and win ugly, and we found a way.
“That’s a part of our team make-up that we’re all about, and Wayne [Bennett] can’t coach that.
“It’s up to us to grit it out and grind it out, and those last few minutes, although we made it hard on ourselves, it was a bit of fun – as long as we won.”
In just his second game back after a second back operation, three months ago, the NRL’s oldest warrior played 48 minutes in two stints against the Bulldogs. He ran five times for 26 metres, and made one line break, three tackle breaks and 22 tackles.
His 80 touches of the ball were more than any other Knights player and second only to opposite number Michael Ennis’s 97.
“I thought his last 20 minutes was great,” Bennett said.
“I thought he really made a difference for us in that last 20 minutes when I put him back on.
“He’s had such a horrific season, so he needs playing time. He got some last week and he got some this week.
“I thought he was a bit rusty in the first half, but the second half he nailed it.”
While most of his teammates enjoy a full week off to recover and recharge, Buderus will continue his routine of physiotherapy and treatment on his back so he can negotiate whatever is left of his final season.
Action from the Knights v Bulldogs clash in Mackay on Sunday. Bulldog Tony Williams is tackled. Picture GETTY IMAGES
“My head’s in a good place to finish the season off well, so I’m looking forward to stringing a few games together,” he said.
The Knights will resume training next Monday for their next game, against Penrith at Centrebet Stadium on July 21.
“We’ve got the whole week off this time,” Buderus said.
Former Knights captain Danny Buderus. Picture GETTY IMAGES