They crashed out of finals' contention last season off the back of some of the worst defensive displays in the club's history.
But while it's still early days, there are signs coach Adam O'Brien has turned the Newcastle Knights biggest weakness into their greatest strength. And it's taken him just one off-season to do it.
In a remarkable turnaround, the Knights have conceded only 38 points at an average of just under 13 per game in the opening three rounds of the premiership.
You have to go back 22 years to 1998 to find a better defensive record from a Newcastle side at the same stage of the season.
It's a far cry from late last season when Knights players accused themselves of being "mentally soft" as their season dramatically slipped away after big losses to Manly, Wests Tigers and Penrith.
But that new-found resolve in defence, highlighted by last Sunday's gutsy performance under all sorts of adversity against the Panthers, will face the ultimate test today at Campbelltown Stadium against premiership heavyweights Canberra Raiders.
Fresh from their ruthless disposal of Melbourne Storm in Melbourne last weekend, the Raiders will be looking for another kill and will view the Knights as vulnerable after a taxing 90 minute defensive marathon against Penrith.
Knights captain Mitchell Pearce, in some doubt all week after being concussed during the early minutes against Penrith, has been cleared to play after passing all the protocols and coming through yesterday's captain's run unscathed.
His battle in the halves with Raiders' man-of-the-moment, Englishman George Williams will be riveting.
In a huge boost, dynamic fullback Kalyn Ponga returns from suspension with O'Brien opting to retain fullback debutant Tex Hoy on the bench following the injury to utility star Connor Watson.
Brisbane Broncos recruit Andrew McCullough will make his debut for his new club at hooker.
O'Brien said McCullough would have no trouble adapting to the Knights' structures in attack and defence.
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"He's got a cool, calm head on his shoulders which will suit our big forwards," O'Brien said. "We don't need a guy to come in and over-play too much.
"Macca gets we've got a big forward pack and he'll get to play off the back of those guys so it's been really good."
McCullough, a veteran of 260 NRL games for the Broncos, faces an intriguing personal duel with Raiders dangerman Josh Hodgson, who out-pointed rival Cameron Smith last weekend, prompting suggestions he is now the number one hooker in the game.
While acknowledging the Hodgson threat, O'Brien said it was just as important for his side to nullify the Raiders players around him.
"It's probably not what you do to Josh but what you do to everyone around Josh," he said.
"We had a bit of practice last week with [Panthers hooker Api] Koroisau. He's a handy nine as well which I thought for the most part we did a fairly good job on."
O'Brien said on Thursday he is confident his side can shrug off the effects of the physically taxing effort against the Panthers and be ready to perform against the Raiders.
"Early in the week, I think with the travel - six hours on the bus and the game - they were jaded Monday and Tuesday but they bounced in the door the last two days really well," he said.
"I think Balin [Cupples] and the performance crew have done an exceptional job at getting them to recover. We've got good facilities here so we've had them in the water, the coaches have held their end of the bargain up by lightening the load in terms of training. Now, they are itching to play again. But if we keep having 90 minute games like that, I'm going to be concerned, you know with the mounting injury toll and we've got some travel to do as well."
In the Raiders only change, Bailey Simonsson returns to the side on the wing.
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