Newcastle’s primary goal of locking in an NRL’s finals spot is complete, but now they must show they can make a big dent come September.
The Knights’ thrilling 15-14 win over North Queensland on Thursday night confirmed their second straight finals appearance, destined to finish in seventh spot.
But never before has such a lopsided end to the season loomed.
The NRL’s top six has not changed since round 11, and the whopping 10 points between sixth and eight has most declaring two sides will just make up the numbers.
The Knights are also poised to enter the finals with the worst for-and-against of any team since Canberra in 2002, with their record currently sitting at -130.
Not that Newcastle or coach Adam O’Brien are interested.
“They can say what they want about us, I don’t really care,” O’Brien said.
“It’s a different competition once you get in the finals. Once you get there you have to be really good for a month.”
Last year’s return to the finals after a seven-year drought ended in a whimper for Newcastle, flogged 46-20 by South Sydney.
But in the Knights’ full-strength spine, O’Brien has faith.
Mitchell Pearce has now won all six games he has played alongside mid-season transfer Jake Clifford in the halves.
Likewise, he and Kalyn Ponga are 5-0 in games they have played together this year, compared to the Knights being 1-4 in matches neither have played.
“We’ve got heart, we showed that tonight,” O’Brien said.
“If you have that it goes a long way to winning rugby league games. I feel like we have the personnel and juice in our legs to get a bit better.”
Those combinations will need to go some way to fixing their attack.
The Knights still rank 15th of all teams for points scored this year, with their attack criticised following last week’s less-than-convincing win over last-placed Canterbury.
“I thought there was some of what we worked on during the week (against the Titans),” O’Brien said..
“We get to evolve that now, we have a longer turnaround.
“But right now I am not critiquing them and patting them on the back. I’m just really proud of them.
“It’s been a tough year but we have a great group there who want to go further.”