Newcastle could know as early as the middle of July if they are serious finals contenders or facing a seventh straight season among the also-rans following the release of the NRL's re-vamped competition draw.
Coach Adam O'Brien and club officials had little to complain about yesterday when the draw was officially announced with the Knights faring better than several other clubs including defending premiers Sydney Roosters, who face a real test of character if they are to win a third straight title.
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The Knights, who take on Penrith at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday week in a round three clash to re-start their campaign, face a challenging block of six straight games from round four to round 10 that could easily decide their fate.
During that period, they will take on last year's grandfinalists Canberra followed by Melbourne, Brisbane, Manly, Parramatta and South Sydney with a tough away trip to Townsville to meet the Cowboys wedged in between.
O'Brien is undaunted by the prospect and is confident his team will rise to the challenge.
"It's going to give us a real good indication of where we are at," he said. "We play some quality teams who have been tipped by the experts to be premiership favourites but I'm happy with it."
The Knights' commercial department is also happy with the draw with Newcastle set to feature on free-to-air broadcaster Channel Nine's coverage on seven occasions on a Sunday afternoon during the season.
"It's a great result for us and our sponsors will be over the moon with the television exposure after what has been a pretty tough period," CEO Phil Gardner said.
"If anything, it's an indication of where Channel Nine believes we are heading and I've got a lot of faith in Adam, his coaching staff and the players and where this team is going."
While the Roosters have to play premiership heavyweights Canberra, Souths, Brisbane and Melbourne twice, the Knights will meet last season's grandfinalists Canberra and the Roosters just once.
They will double up against Manly, Melbourne, North Queensland, the Warriors and Wests Tigers.
Meanwhile, O'Brien says he is close to settling on his squad for the Penrith game but still has some thinking to do around his centre combinations while the signing of Brisbane Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough has also muddied the waters in the hooking spot.
It was expected rookie Chris Randall would be given his debut against the Panthers and share the hooking duties with utility Connor Watson but the immediate acquisition of McCullough throws some doubt on that.
While left centre Enari Tuala didn't put a foot wrong in the opening two rounds, the return of Bradman Best from injury will make it hard for O'Brien to leave him out.
"I'm happy with the two centres who started the year but I can't not think about Bradman and what he's done since he's been back and Tau (Moga) is the same," he said.
"We've got four centres there who are like four pitbulls at the moment. They're all going after it."
Asked about where he believes his team is at after almost three weeks back in full training, O'Brien said: "I liken them to a race horse that's been out for a spell and has come back.
"We've spiked really quickly, to the point where I'm trying to pull them down a little bit.
"We had a light day today and I'm going to give them the weekend off as they've been excellent.
"Going on the consistent training that we've had, I expect a consistent performance."
O'Brien indicated he hasn't lost any sleep over the ruck rule changes and the move to one referee instead of two with it making little difference to the way his team has trained. He says strong ruck defence remains the key to success.
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