Struggling Wests Tigers have drawn a line in the sand as they prepare to fight for their NRL season up against a similarly desperate Newcastle in Campbelltown on Saturday.
Just as the 14th-placed Tigers appeared to have turned the corner with an upset of South Sydney a fortnight ago, the joint-venture were then spanked by Canterbury 36-4 last week.
The result came just two weeks after they were embarrassed by Canberra in the nation’s capital, prompting coach Jason Taylor to lay down the law for his men at Concord this week.
The last-placed Knights are coming off a humiliating 62-0 drubbing of their own at the hands of Cronulla, however Taylor said his side’s opposition was “irrelevant”.
“It wouldn’t matter who we were playing,” he said in Campbelltown on Friday.
“We haven’t been playing well enough and we need to improve. We’ve talked long and hard about it. We’ve trained well this week, but we want a much improved performance.”
Hooker Robbie Farah is a confirmed scratching from the side with concussion, joining star fullback James Tedesco (shoulder) on the sidelines. Centre Kevin Naiqama is also under a fitness cloud.
Off-season recruit Matt Ballin is set to make his club debut in what will be his first NRL game since undergoing a knee reconstruction last season.
The former Manly rake will be the second new Tiger in as many weeks, after mid-season recruit Elijah Taylor made a strong first impression with a typically hard-working effort against the Bulldogs.
Jason Taylor said the ex-Panther had shored up the Tigers’ defensive middle, but also highlighted the team’s frailties on the edge.
“He played 70 minutes, made 50 tackles and really improved us in that middle of the field,” he said.
“The disappointing thing was it was around the edges that the Bulldogs caused us some problems, and down short sides. But that’s behind us.
“We’ve had a strong week and there’s a line in the sand for us – we need to do better.”
NSW State of Origin incumbent Trent Hodkinson (knee) is one of four players returning from injury for a Knights side that is on track to be the worst defensive team in NRL history.
The Knights’ sole win this season came in an 18-16 victory over the Tigers in round six.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Wests Tigers have a horrible recent record against the Knights, winning just one of six matches since 2012.
* This match-up pits the two worst defensive teams so far this season against each other. The Knights have conceded a league-worst 36 points a game, while the Tigers give up 28.
* The Tigers will be looking to avoid losing their fifth straight home game, which they haven’t done since 2003.