A WISE coach once said hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard, and I was reminded of that adage during the Knights' mighty effort against Penrith at Campbelltown last weekend.
Rarely in their history have the Knights rolled up their sleeves and worked harder in a game, and the lone competition point they earned from their 14-all golden point draw barely seemed sufficient reward.
Toohey's News: Listen to Barry Toohey's new podcast in your Podcast app
Their most talented player, Queensland Origin fullback Kalyn Ponga, was unavailable through suspension.
Four minutes after kick-off, Newcastle skipper Mitchell Pearce was helped from the pitch in a dazed and confused state after suffering a concussion.
Utility Connor Watson limped off a few minutes later with an ankle injury, leaving the Knights without six first-choice players, given that Mitch Barnett (neck), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (hamstring) and Jayden Brailey (knee) were already on the injured list.
Meanwhile the Panthers were enjoying a lopsided share of possession and raced to a 14-0 lead after only 24 minutes. A blowout loss - and a reality check for new Knights coach Adam O'Brien - seemed the only logical outcome.
Yet somehow O'Brien's troops regained composure, jagged a morale-boosting try by big Jacob Saifiti on the stroke of half-time, and dominated the match from that point onward. Had outstanding 18-year-old Bradman Best backed himself late in regulation time, he would have snared a hat-trick of tries and the Knights would have been celebrating a famous win.
In the end, they had to settle for a share of the points and a moral victory, but the infusion of self-belief they will have gained could yet prove priceless.
What a contrast to Newcastle's previous visit to Campbelltown, in round 23 last season, when with their top-eight hopes riding on the result, they suffered a 46-4 humiliation at the hands of Wests Tigers.
The turnaround under O'Brien has been remarkable, after he arrived in Newcastle to take charge of the team who were perhaps the NRL's biggest underachievers last year.
Most agree Newcastle had enough talent to have featured in the 2019 finals.
They showed that during a six-game winning streak mid-season that lifted them to fifth on the ladder. But when the going got tough at the business end of proceedings, they went missing.
Their implosion cost Nathan Brown his job and left O'Brien with the task of instilling in the team a semblance of the resilience and grit that are trademarks of both Melbourne and Sydney Roosters, the two clubs at which he served his apprenticeship.
That process started with hard work in the pre-season and, while it is early days, the mental toughness and spirit that were lacking last year already appear evident.
When you consider the Knights did not concede a point after half-time against Penrith, and kept the Warriors scoreless in their 20-0 round-one win, that means in three of the six halves of football they have played this season they have maintained a clean sheet.
Some of the defensive efforts against Penrith were phenomenal, and debutants Tex Hoy, Chris Randall and Brodie Jones were nothing short of heroic.
As positively as the Knights have started this disrupted season, there is a long way to go. To put everything in context, in 2015 Newcastle were unbeaten competition leaders after the first four rounds and finished with the wooden spoon.
The challenge for O'Brien's men now is replicating last Sunday's performance, week in, week out. The NRL's long-term heavyweights, the Roosters and Melbourne, rarely fluctuate.
That's why tomorrow's clash with Canberra is so important for the Knights.
The Raiders will be a step up from the Panthers, but if Newcastle can work as hard as they did last week, anything is possible.