MEMORIES of forlorn bus trips home from Campbelltown and Penrith will provide Knights warhorse David Klemmer with motivational fuel as he strives to make amends in 2020.
The NSW and Kangaroos front-rower doesn't like losing at any time, but Newcastle's hammerings from Wests Tigers (46-4) and the Panthers (54-10) at the end of last season prompted plenty of soul-searching.
"For me, the bus trips coming home after getting flogged were something I'd never experienced before," Klemmer told the Newcastle Herald.
"When I was back in Sydney, the drive home was 10 or 15 minutes.
"Here it's two or two-and-a-half hours on the bus, and it's not a nice journey back home. Those sort of things struck a chord for me."
Heading into the round-23 clash with the Tigers, Newcastle were still in with an outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs.
The landslide defeat not only torpedoed those hopes, it prompted Knights coach Nathan Brown to depart, effective immediately.
Newcastle eventually finished 11th on the ladder, having occupied a top-five position at the halfway point in the season. They won only two of their last 10 games to crash out of finals contention.
"Last year was probably a rollercoaster for us as a whole club, and for me personally it was a big learning curve," Klemmer said.
"We started off slowly, then we went on a good winning streak, but we just couldn't hang onto it.
"What we went through at the back end of the year, and how we ended up mentally, it was pretty disappointing.
"No one wants to go through that again.
"The fans were disappointed and we don't want to dish that up for them again."
Klemmer has now played in 19 Tests for Australia and 14 Origins for NSW, but the one career milestone that has avoided him is a premiership victory.
The closest he has come was in 2014, when he came off the bench in Canterbury's grand final loss to South Sydney.
"I've won a World Cup, I've won an Origin series, so obviously the next one for me is ticking off winning a comp," he said.
"That would beat everything I've achieved in my career, if I can win a comp. It would be pretty special to do it up here.
"Newcastle is my home now and I'd love to win one for the town and community."
The Knights have not featured in the finals since 2013 and Klemmer last tasted play-off action in 2016 with the Bulldogs.
If the 26-year-old's steely resolve is any indication, this should be the year that Newcastle break their drought.
"This is what we do for our livelihood," he said.
"A lot of time goes into it.
"I spend more time with these boys than I do with my family. It's something I'm really passionate about.
"Rugby league is all I know.
"I've played it since I was a little boy.
"I love the game, but I hate losing.
"Especially coming up here, it's such a passionate footy town.
"When we were winning, it was pretty heart-warming to see the community and the town, it was buzzing.
"It was great to see the smiles on people's faces.
"If we can do that again this year, and get up there in the top eight, it would do wonders for the community."
Looking back on last season, Klemmer said the Knights did not show enough resilience in dealing with pressure and adversity.
"All those games we won, things were going well for us," he said.
"Then at the back end of the year, if we didn't start well or whatever, we sort of dropped our heads.
"We didn't hang in there and other teams just came over the top of us.
"I think all the boys would agree we just weren't mentally strong enough, which is disappointing."
Klemmer has welcomed the increased intensity at training under new coach Adam O'Brien, saying the first step towards success will be a tough pre-season.
"We want to play semi-final football," he said.
"That's why everyone trains so hard for at this time of the year. That's our goal."
Klemmer's first season at the Knights draw comparisons with club champions Paul Harragon, Mark Sargent and Tony Butterfield, and he was one of the first forwards chosen for both NSW and Australia. But he insisted he had plenty of room for improvement, describing 2019 as "an up-and-down year" on a personal level.
"I've had a long time to think about how I can be better, and what I can do to help the footy side," he said.
"I'm excited to improve my footy and take on a bit of a leadership role. I think it's something I can do well at."
The fractured bone in his wrist, which he suffered in Origin I last year and sidelined him for a month mid-season, has healed nicely without surgery.
"It's had a good rest after the [end-of-season] Test matches, and the physios up here have been really good in looking after me," he said.
"I haven't missed any contact sessions at training, so I feel really good."