Cessnock are one of four teams vying for three remaining spots in the Newcastle Rugby League finals series.
How the sixth-placed Goannas fare against defending champions South Newcastle at Townson Oval on Saturday will dictate what results Central Newcastle, Kurri Kurri and Maitland require to make the top five.
But Cessnock's equation is simplest because they can't afford to lose and coach Todd Edwards hopes the return of captain Steve Waetford (elbow) from an extended injury lay off can help the Goannas turn around a 57-0 loss to minor premiers Western Suburbs at home on the weekend.
"He [Waetford] is important to what we're about," Edwards told the Newcastle Herald.
"He was out best for the first four-to-six weeks [of the season] before he got hurt. He's very consistent.
"Just his presence out there will be good for us [this weekend]. He's our captain and we've missed not having him."
Edwards didn't confirm what position Waetford would play, but expected him to have an impact regardless of the role.
Waetford, a former NSW Cup player with the New Zealand Warriors who joined Cessnock this season after stints at Maitland and Group 21 side Denman, could line up in the halves, hooker or fullback.
The Goannas have already been forced to shuffle personnel with prop Brendan Hlad (eye) and utility Marvin Filipo (shoulder) both out of action.
Edwards said Cessnock had "everything to play for" despite going in as "underdogs" and already being "written off".
Adding to the Goannas' task, making the play-offs for the first time since 2015, they visit second-placed Souths on the club's annual charity event known as Sleapy's Day.
"We'll be up against it, that's for sure, but we won't be forfeiting" Edwards said.
"We'll turn up and give it our best shot."
Souths (18) welcome back prop Luke Higgins.
Elsewhere on Saturday and the Pickers host out-of-contention Lakes (10) at Maitland Sportsground.
Maitland (14) sit one point ahead of Cessnock (13) on the competition ladder in equal fourth alongside Kurri (14), who travel to meet third-placed Central (15) at St John Oval on Sunday in what could be a crucial fixture. Wests (26) host Macquarie (10) at Harker Oval on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Newcastle representative selectors this week named an Emerging Rebels squad, made up of players aged between 20 and 24, to tackle the NRL Affiliated States team on October 3.
EMERGING REBELS: Harry O'Brien, Cameron Anderson, Tom Cronan, Harry Van Dartel, Malu Fiu, Ryan Glanville, Nash Birch, Bobby Treacy, Nick Lawrence, Cameron King, Jarred Anderson, Tori Freeman, Ben Stone, Greg Morris, Ngangarra Barker, Daniel Langbridge, Dom Murphy, Reid Alchin, John Toleafoa, Tom Madden.