Bennett: No one wants to let Sam down
SOUTH Sydney's inspirational cut-price prop Liam Knight is ready for his return bout with Sydney Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett expects Knight to not only bounce back from his run-in with Waerea-Hargreaves but to also stand up in the absence of suspended skipper Sam Burgess.
Knight was left smashed up courtesy of a controversial tackle from Waerea-Hargreaves last week that escaped suspension, while Burgess was rubbed out for pulling the hair of rookie Rooster Billy Smith.
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Bennett doesn't want Knight or any of his players running out against the Roosters thinking "we are doing it for Sam".
But what Bennett won't deny is "the one thing you wouldn't want to do is be letting Sam down".
And that, said Bennett, is a significant difference heading into Friday night's grudge match NRL qualifying final after the bad blood that flowed during and after last week's spiteful encounter.
Knight, who is only on $110,000 this season, had his first training run of the week on Thursday but Bennett confirmed he would be right to play, while the Rabbitohs will also be boosted by the return of Tom and George Burgess from injury and suspension, respectively.
Most believe if the Bunnies are to have any chance of upsetting the reigning premiers two weeks running it is going to take a monster performance from Knight, given the lack of football the Burgess twins have played recently.
While heaping praise on Knight's rapid progress as a footballer since joining Souths this year, Bennett couldn't help but make sure Burgess's influence in that process was also recognised.
"Sam has done a lot for a lot of players here, and he certainly has for Liam," Bennett said. "They are pretty close.
"And Liam will be like a number of players. They will all have Sam in their thoughts at some stage and they won't want to let Sam down, because they know if Sam was out there he wouldn't let us down. So that is the mentality you want in the place.
"No one is saying we are doing it for Sam. That is bullshit. We are not doing that.
"But if you know Sam Burgess and you are a teammate of Sam's, the one thing you wouldn't want to do is be letting Sam down."
And Knight's best this year has so far exceeded what many believed he was capable of consistently producing after previous stints at Manly, the Roosters and Canberra.
It is no secret Knight had a troubled upbringing and the lack of consistency in his life often portrayed his on-field performances.
After losing his mum at a very young age, Knight lived in foster care where he developed into one of the country's top junior tennis players and was said to be at a similar level to a young Nick Kyrgios.
But while he had the potential to play on the international tour, rugby league took over as his priority after moving to the Central Coast, although everywhere he went trouble seemed to follow.
Geoff Toovey stills shakes his head when he thinks back to the time Knight was sprung doing a nudie run across Rat Park after a local rugby union grand final.
He was also the player infamously charged after being caught spraying Aeroguard in his mouth while drink driving.
But as Toovey recalled, he was also an incredibly gifted athlete with stunning speed while being "very likeable".
Bennett agreed: "I think he is a really good person."
Knight was actually the first player Bennett signed after taking charge at Souths. With the Raiders needing to clear some salary cap space, the Bunnies ended up getting him cheap. So far Knight has given Bennett nothing to complain about.
"He has had a chequered past but that is the past," Bennett said. "I said to him, 'I don't care about the past. It's about what you do now'."
The irony is that when Knight initially left Manly to join the Roosters many feared the Sea Eagles had let go of another Waerea-Hargreaves. But it's taken several years for him to emerge from that shadow as a player capable of replacing one of the game's toughest.