The Knights’ mens team go into Sunday’s match against Whitehaven at the LEL Arena off the back of three consecutive wins and captain Chris Clarkson believes that those wins are huge for the team.
“It was massive to get the two points at Widnes. To get the three wins over that period of ten days is big for us. Not many teams will have done that over that time and it obviously cements our spot in third place at the minute.”
Victory at Widnes’ DCBL Stadium came, however, after an under-par performance, something the captain believes the team will be able to build on coming off the back of a free weekend.
“Although we’re not playing quite how we want to at the minute, we’re in a really good position and we’re happy to be there.
“The under-par performances are probably down to fatigue. There were a lot of tired bodies after those three games and we’ve got a small squad and a few injuries. The two injured loanees – Ronan Michael and Levi Edwards – have been missing for a couple of months which has been tough so the seventeen to twenty lads who have been playing each week had to work really hard.
“With that said, the weekend off came at a really good time for us.”
Discussing how a team wrestle back control in a game when things aren’t going to plan – like the Knights had to do when coming from behind in each of the three victories – Clarkson pointed to keeping calm.
“The first thing we have to do is be patient. We went ten points behind at Widnes and you can’t get that back within five minutes. In an arm wrestle, it can take twenty minutes to get that back so you’ve got to be patient. At times like that, it’s really important to complete your sets whilst playing with the ball and moving it.
“Defending well is vital, too. We have done that for each other in defence, we’ve been working hard and covering each other’s backs really well which will stand us in good stead for the rest of the year.”
That defensive effort was encapsulated by the determination shown by the thirteen men on the field when Widnes centre Joe Edge capitalised on a loose ball to break deep into Knights’ territory.
“We’ve done that throughout the season and it’s great to see when we look back at the video and there’s everybody sprinting, not just jogging, to get back for the team. That’s the sort of desire we have and we’re a competitive team, we want to win, and I think the reaction when there is a break is a good one. The first thought is always to get back there to do our job.”
In tough patches, having players who have fought their way through those times in the past is vitally important and, in the likes of Clarkson, fellow forwards Danny Kirmond and Jordan Thompson, as well as half-back Jamie Ellis, the Knights have considerable experience at the highest level to navigate through those troubled waters.
“It’s great for us experienced lads to know we’ve got the ability to stay calm and work through it, but I think for the less experienced players to see that around them and the calming influence that beings is really important. Across the board, we talk about staying calm and thinking about the next job when something does go wrong.
“It’s great to be amongst this squad and this group of lads. We all know what to do and, when Fordy talks about what comes after the helicopter crashing, it’s a case of moving on to the next job: stay patient, complete our sets, play low risk and defend well.”
That togetherness and commitment saw the Knights, after trailing 14-4 at the break against Widnes, nil the Vikings. A try from Joe Brown around the hour mark narrowed the gap and then, in the 75th minute, Liam Harris, James Glover and Matty Marsh teamed up to produce a match-winning bit of magic.
“It was a huge play from those three. We stayed patient and kept working hard for twenty, twenty-five, thirty minutes and you do that to give players like that something to work with.
“To see them come up with that play, that bit of magic, it was great. A lad like myself and the other boys in the middle, our job is to just keep working hard and theirs is to come up with the magic. When we’re all doing our job, it’s marvellous and everyone is buzzing after that.”
Clarkson went on to outline his belief that the togetherness the team are having to show to eke wins out when not at their best gives him confidence that, when performances turn, the team can push on towards the Betfred Championship Play-Offs while hailing the performances and consistency of one of the Knights’ half-backs.
“When we get everyone back and when we have a full, fit squad again, I’m sure we will bear the fruits of hanging in there and working hard for the past few weeks. With Brendan and Jamie missing for periods, I think Liam Harris has done an excellent job as the sole consistent half all year. He’s been great for us, he’s one of them who can come up with a bit of magic.”
Another stand-out performer in recent weeks has been powerhouse prop Pauli Pauli who has delivered three big efforts to help the team to the trio of wins.
“He’s been brilliant since coming back in. We always say as a group that we’re glad to be on his side after seeing him carry the ball in and knock someone over – I certainly wouldn’t like to be stood in front of him! He knows he has still got some bits to work on, he knows he can stil get his head down to do that little bit more for us but them moments that he has when he makes a big carry of gets an offload away, that gives us all a buzz and he’s got us back into games in the last few weeks.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s match against Whitehaven, a team who have beaten the Knights in Cumbria convincingly already this year as well as last season, Clarkson highlighted the importance of having the correct, professional approach.
“It’s always difficult going up there, for any team. You’ve got to be absolutely on it, your mentality and attitude has to be up there and that’s the main thing. At this stage of the season, you don’t have to do loads on the training field and it’s about focus and doing the right things. It’s a case of fine-tuning the things we need to work on.
“We’ve had a weekend off, we’re refreshed and we’re ready to go into Sunday’s game without that level of fatigue – let’s see how we go.”
Tickets for Sunday’s match against Whitehaven are available from the Knights’ Club Shop, priced at £20 for adults, £15 for concessions and £5 for under-16s. The Club Shop is open between 10am and 4pm from Monday to Friday.