Playing better together under Wayne Bennett .... Neville Costigan's Newcastle Knights. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Newcastle forward Neville Costigan believes his side's tough run to the finals will prove a blessing in disguise - if they make it.
The Knights have arguably the toughest draw in the competition, which starts this afternoon against Manly at Brookvale Oval.
They then take on the Cowboys in Townsville and South Sydney at home to round out the regular season.
While it is a daunting prospect, confronting the Knights in their bid to squeeze into the play-offs, Costigan insists he would not have it any other way. ''I'd rather be playing the top three sides in the comp than the bottom three sides,'' he said.
''I think all the boys are looking forward to the challenge of testing ourselves, which will help if we make the finals as well.
''If we do make the semis, we'll definitely give it a good go. I don't think we'll just be making up numbers but we can't look past the game against Manly.''
Losses on Friday night for the Tigers and Broncos have helped Newcastle, who could now jump to as high as seventh with a victory against the Sea Eagles this afternoon.
While the Knights are delighted with recent results, Costigan said it would not mean a thing if they do not take advantage of it today.
''It's good for us but it still doesn't matter if we don't win,'' he said.
''It's a big ask, going to Brooky. Manly are a strong side and not many teams win at Brookvale. I'm looking forward to the challenge, and so are the boys.
''You've got Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough, who are great ball-playing backrowers. They can pass before the line and make it really difficult to defend.''
Costigan, who played under Wayne Bennett at Brisbane and St George Illawarra, admitted the Knights struggled with the expectation and hype that surrounded the arrival of the master coach and his protege, Darius Boyd, at the start of the year.
But he believes they are now finally learning to play together as a team having adapted to Bennett's philosophies.
''We're not worried about the semis, we really are just taking it one week at a time and we're enjoying it more. There was a little bit of pressure on us and it … took us a while to find our feet and play together with Darius and Wayne.
''We're now gelling together really well … and I think that's showing in the way we're playing.''