IT WOULD have been easy for Knights coach Wayne Bennett to react to the team's mid-season five-game losing streak by cancelling the players' week off and flogging them at training.
The last of those five losses was inflicted by the Raiders at Hunter Stadium on June 9, and the players were booed off the field by their own fans after the embarrassing 32-16 defeat.
The Knights had a bye after that game and a 16-day break before their next assignment against a Wests Tigers team that had strung seven wins together.
Bennett allowed the players to go their separate ways for a week to catch up with family and friends or recharge with a brief interstate or overseas holiday.
When they clocked back on for duty a week before the Tigers match, instead of kicking stones they had a spring in their step, and responded with four wins from their next five games.
Newcastle's past two victories have been against last year's grand finalists Manly and the Warriors in successive weeks, and tomorrow they will chase their first winning hat-trick in a year against the team that inadvertently kick-started their resurgence.
The Knights trailed the Warriors 18-0 after 16 minutes at Mt Smart Stadium last Saturday but rallied to win 24-19 to join the Warriors, Raiders, Titans and Dragons on 20 points - one win adrift of the eighth-placed Tigers - heading into this weekend.
''We've just got back to having fun at training, and if you turn up here every day, you see a lot of smiles on the blokes' faces, and we're just enjoying our footy,'' playmaker Jarrod Mullen said before Newcastle's game against the Raiders at Canberra Stadium tomorrow.
''Even though we were down against the ropes [against the Warriors] at the weekend, we just got back to playing simple and just enjoying ourselves, and I think it showed out there. It was getting a bit of a grind there at one stage, but we're playing a lot more games at training, and it's helped in the games.''
Centre Timana Tahu said the Knights had rediscovered their self-belief. ''We were down on confidence early in the year,'' he said. ''After the Canberra game when we got booed off things started changing from there.
''The training has been more enjoyable. Wayne has come in and made us keep a smile on our face and enjoy what we are doing. At the end of the day this is what we do; we love playing football. If it becomes a chore everyone starts hating it.''
Mullen said it was Bennett's idea to lighten the load at training, and the players - having adapted to his methods and mindset - embraced the change.
''We were probably treading on eggshells, and didn't really know how to take him early on but now, everyone knows what the go is with the team and what we've got to do every week, and it's been working,'' Mullen said of the seven-time premiership-winning coach. ''He's always been mellow. He just puts a lot of ownership on the players.
''He gives us a bit of leniency towards a lot of stuff, and plenty of rest and stuff like that, but when it's time to train it's time to dig in, and that's what we've been doing.''
Mullen said the arrival in April of Willie Mason, who had a larger than life personality and infectious sense of humour, helped break the ice.
''He's been tremendous, not only on the field but off the field for us,'' Mullen said. ''He's always having a joke with the boys, and I think he's really brought our pack together.''
After struggling to compete in most games in the first two-thirds of the season, Mullen said Newcastle's improved ball control was another key to their recent success.