30th September 2020, 10:38 | nrl
South Sydney prop Liam Knight has credited former England captain Sam Burgess and brothers Tom and George for helping him rejuvenate his career at the Rabbitohs as the Wayne Bennett-coached club prepare for a sudden-death finals clash with Newcastle.
Knight joined Souths last season after playing just nine NRL matches in stints with Manly, Sydney Roosters and Canberra and has finally realised the potential he showed in the junior ranks with the Sea Eagles.
While Bennett- the former England coach – has had a huge influence on the turn-around in fortune for Knight, he quickly became friends with Sam, Tom and George and spent so much time with them that team-mates jokingly referred to him as one of the Burgess brothers.
“It was massive for myself, the way they welcomed me to the club,” Knight said. “They were just so natural and easy to be around and they embraced me. I got real close, real quick, with the whole family.
“That meant a lot to me, especially with their standing in the game. Sam is a legend and he is one of the most approachable people I’ve met.
“They are all such good blokes and from day one at Souths there wasn’t even a transition. Everyone has been awesome and I feel like we are a very close playing group.”
The 25-year-old started in the front-row alongside Tom Burgess in last weekend’s record 60-8 thrashing of back-to-back premiers Sydney Roosters and carried the ball for 181 metres in two stints totalling 52 minutes.
With Sam Burgess having retired and George joining Wigan this season, Tom and Knight have become key members of the Rabbitohs forward pack that will be aiming to win their personal dual with Knights representative props David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti on Sunday.
Newcastle had been preparing to host the sudden-death match but a 36-6 loss to the Gold Coast Titans coupled with the Souths stunning defeat of the Roosters meant the Rabbitohs leap-frogged the Knights into sixth place and earned the right to a home final.
The other sudden-death encounter in the opening weekend of the NRL finals will be a re-match between fifth-placed Canberra and eighth-placed Cronulla after the Raiders defeated the Sharks 38-28 last weekend.
Both teams were missing nine members of their top squad for the match and Raiders coach Ricky Stuart will welcome back England stars John Bateman, Elliot Whitehead and George Williams for Saturday’s match in Canberra.
However, former Wigan prop Ryan Sutton’s season has ended prematurely after suffering a knee injury last weekend.
“He has had a wonderful season for us, and he has needed to because we have had so many injuries in our middles,” Stuart said. “He is a reason why we have got to where we are on the table.
“The injury to Ryan really hurts and disappoints me because he really took the disappointment of not playing in the grand final last year like a man. He really dedicated his off-season to getting back into the 17 and playing well, and he has done that all year.”
The Roosters shock loss to Souths has left them to face minor premiers Penrith in the opening match of the finals series at Panthers Stadium on Friday, while third-placed Parramatta will travel to Brisbane to play second-placed Melbourne on Saturday.
Both the Roosters and Storm will welcome back a host of stars after resting them last weekend ahead of the finals.
However, the crushing defeat by Souths has left the Roosters needing to defy history if they are to win a third consecutive grand final as no premiership winning team in 112 years since the competition began in Australia has conceded 50 points or more in a regular season match.
Penrith may also create history if they win after recording 15 consecutive victories leading into the finals. Should their streak continue, the Panthers would extend the record to 18 matches without defeat in the grand final – a feat no team in the NRL era has achieved.
All four games from Week One of the NRL Finals will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sports:
Friday 2 October
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters - Sky Sports Arena - 10:45am
Saturday 3 October
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks - Sky Sports Arena - 8:35am
Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels - Sky Sports Arena - 10:45am
Sunday 4 October
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Newcastle Knights - Sky Sports Arena - 6am