THIS columnist was easy to spot sitting in the Panthers' Old Boys dug-out last week, as the only one who jumped to his feet when flying Knights debutant Starford Toa took an intercept and outpaced all comers to the line for the opening salvo.
A pump of the fist and a knowing smile to match the frowns of the grumbling Penrith veterans, I was rudely told to sit down by my old mate Royce Simmons who, in his best Goolagong drawl, wisely counselled not to "go off too f---ing early".
On cue, the irrepressible Nathan Cleary and his mates decided to play out of their skins as the Panthers found weak points across the park to eventually carve out a season send-off fans could take comfort in. Not so for Knights fans on the long ride home.
Defensive resolve was obviously top of the reasons why the Knights suffered a season-worst shellacking, but it's the collective mindset of the team, and their inability to regroup and recover, that stands out for me.
All of which means little as the season that could have been, finally ground to its undistinguished climax. Rest and recovery are the first order of business for players after an arduous 10-month campaign, while a review will be conducted by management searching for a Plan B.
Likely to focus on on-field frailties and shortcomings, the process would be incomplete without recognition by management of their own pivotal moments. It's here that honesty, so long a fundamental plank in the platform of success at the Knights, will be tested.
THIS WEEK'S TOP 8
1. The controversial Jared Waerea-Hargreaves head shot last week wrought carnage on Souths prop Liam Knight, causing a pinball effect that Knight is still counting in the grandstands.
Confusingly graded as merely a "careless" moment, despite causing head trauma to two players, I thought the "flush" nature of the damaging contact was enough to warrant a sanction.
But Waerea-Hargreaves told the judiciary he didn't mean it, even though his record may only be marginally better than Sam Burgess's. And they believed him.
Lucky to dodge another bullet, something tells me a holiday isn't far off for the "Leroy Brown" of the NRL.
2. Against that it's hard to comprehend that a roughish tackle and some hair-pulling is higher up the "do not do" totem pole than causing the car-crash carnage of JWH.
I mean, how is missing a semi-final a reasonable response from the system by comparison?
That said, Burgess's record is bordering on appalling, affording him little latitude with the off-field hatchet men. Right or wrong, he has only himself to blame.
Another interesting precedent to come out of the judiciary was the eight-game sentence handed to alleged eye-gouger Hudson Young.
Convicted on video evidence alone after his victim claimed he felt nothing, the normally insufficient eight weeks suggests the judiciary were on shaky ground.
3. The great cull of teams at this time of the year marks the turning point in the season.
This perfectly Darwinian process continues until only the fittest are left standing, sorting the men from the eventual giants. Will one of the lower-ranked sides capture the public's imagination by achieving the impossible progressing with belief in their hearts and menace in their eyes?
Will over-coaching blunders bring a side unstuck, or will it be a controversial refereeing or judiciary call? All the theatre will be revealed as the pressure-cooker environment builds up to the long weekend.
4. Tonight's first semi-final pits together the Roosters and the Bunnies, again. With Souths losing big Sam, the Roosters appear to take favouritism. However, one suspects Wayne Bennett has a trick or two in the kit-bag. If their smash-up local derby last week is anything to go by, they should all wear helmets. Bunnies by one.
5. Tomorrow afternoon should deliver another titanic encounter. Neither the Storm nor Raiders put their best foot forward last week. Demanding coaches will insist on nothing less than a marked improvement. In keeping with their similar coaching styles, neither side will give an inch and take, by means of force, fair and foul, anything they can get away with. The heavyweight match-up of week one. Storm, at home, by four.
6. Next up, it's Manly and the Sharks in the battle of the lightweights. The sudden-death conclusion is sure to spark easily ignitable fireworks. After conceding 68 points in the past fortnight, the Brookvale home advantage may be Manly's only hope.
I'm tipping one more round for the old street fighter, Paul Gallen. Sharks by 13-plus.
7. On Sunday arvo, it's the Eels at home to the Broncos.
Parra finished an astonishing fitth on the ladder after a wooden spoon in 2018. That sends a compelling message to under-performing clubs about what can be achieved with the right ensemble, but Brad Arthur's boyswon't be resting on their laurels and will see a loss this week as failure. The Broncos are inconsistent and lucky to have earned an invitation. Eels by eight.
8. Wrapping up the Knights' season, after years of heartbreak, reveals little joy.
The club's flagship team finished the same as last season in 11th position, albeit after an additional win.
The second grade were no better, also finishing 11th, out of 12 teams. Jersey Flegg (under-20s) gave us something to cheer about last Sunday, before bowing out in their first semi, 22-18.
To state the bleeding obvious, the only way is up from here. A new coach, the excellent appointment of David Furner, and the obligatory turnstile of player movement will re-cast the red and blue character for season 2020. What that eventually looks like, we'll all have to wait and see.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY:
- Police operation at Mayfield: A man has been taken into custody
- Vicki Mendyk, who lost her husband, Peter, and daughter, Chelsey, to suicide, hopes RU OK? Day will prompt people to check in on loved ones
- Professor Alex Zelinsky tells staff: 'Our university stands in full support of climate action"
- Homeless Newcastle couple tell of depression, illness and isolation as social housing waiting list grows
- Water Pressure: Lower Hunter Water Plan review forum participants say new dams should be considered