DEPARTING coach Kristian Woolf is confident the Newcastle Knights have enough ability to bounce back from this season's disappointment and transform into finals contenders.
Woolf took the helm of Newcastle for their last two games of 2019, after Nathan Brown's abrupt exit, and steered them to a 38-4 win against Gold Coast and 54-10 hiding from Penrith.
That left the Knights 11th on the ladder after losing eight of their final 10 games, a far cry from when they were sitting fifth at the halfway point in their campaign.
Woolf, who has accepted a two-year deal as head coach of Super League heavyweights St Helens, was optimistic about Newcastle's prospects under rookie mentor Adam O'Brien.
"I think there's definitely the squad there," Woolf said.
"But there's been a lot go on this year, and as I said after the game last week, when there's disruption, it doesn't allow players to play their best footy.
"I'm sure that with a new coach coming in there'll be less disruption and I've got no doubt there is a squad there to play finals footy.
"I certainly hope they do."
Having spent almost two decades serving an apprenticeship as a lower-grade and assistant coach, Woolf reflected on his brief stint in Newcastle's hot seat as a beneficial experience.
"You learn a lot of things, even if it's hard to point them out," he said. "It was under different circumstances, and it was very brief.
"A lot of it wasn't about football. It was about the situation at hand and dealing with individuals.
"It wasn't a circumstance that any of us wanted, and it's probably not one where you look back and think it was a positive situation.
"But there was plenty to learn for everyone as individuals and as a club."
The man who coached Tonga to the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup said his young family were excited about the prospect of living in the north of England.
"I'll go to England with a real open mind, to be honest," he said.
"It's something that I've always wanted to do, and it's a club that has a history of success.
"I'm not going over there thinking this will only be for a short period of time. I'm going to throw myself into it and see what happens."
He has already been doing his homework on St Helens, who finished this season as runaway minor premiers after winning 25 of their 28 games.
"I've always kept a bit of an interest in it, and obviously I've taken a closer interest in recent weeks and watched plenty of St Helens games to know exactly who the players are and what they're capable of," he said.
"They're a really good squad obviously and they have a style of footy that works for them."