THEY are outright fourth at the halfway point in the NRL regular season and are confident their best football lies ahead of them.
But the painful memories of last year remain fresh in the minds of the Newcastle Knights as they set their sights on qualifying for the play-offs for the first time since 2013.
After Saturday's nail-biting 20-18 win against South Sydney, Newcastle have 13 points from their first 10 games (six wins, three losses and a draw).
They would appear to have a favourable schedule over the next 10 rounds, given that six of their fixtures are on home turf and only one of their remaining opponents, Melbourne Storm, are higher than them on the ladder.
But they were similarly placed at the corresponding point of 2019, only for the wheels to fall off spectacularly.
Newcastle lost eight of their last 10 games to finish 11th, a slump that cost then coach Nathan Brown his job. Among the defeats was a 20-14 boilover at home against lowly Canterbury, who Newcastle host at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon said his teammates "don't want to count our chickens before they hatch" and was hopeful last year's experience would stand them in good stead.
"For me personally and a couple of the other boys who were here last year and part of the squad, I think we can learn a lesson about not getting ahead of ourselves," he said.
"We've had a good first block now and we've got to finish it off in the last 10 weeks. I think it's about playing consistent every week and, it's pretty cliched, but going into every game one week at a time, and don't get ahead of ourselves."
A local junior who debuted in the NRL in 2015, Fitzgibbon is one of a core group of Newcastle players - along with Sione Mata'utia, Mitch Barnett, Daniel and Jacob Saifiti and Josh King - who are yet to appear in the play-offs.
"For the last few years, one of my main goals has been that I want to play finals footy," Fitzgibbon said.
"Obviously I haven't managed to achieve that yet. So, yeah, it would be a big thing, for not only myself but the club.
"The time in the past we've been through, leading up to this season, it's been building for at least a couple of years now.
"If we do manage to get in, it would be exciting times, not just for the club but for the town."
For the first time all season, Knights coach Adam O'Brien had his four first-choice back-rowers - Fitzgibbon, Aidan Guerra, Mata'utia and Barnett - in the squad who played Souths on Saturday.
Fitzgibbon and Guerra started the match but both Barnett and Mata'utia will be pushing to earn a promotion from the bench in coming weeks.
"Good clubs have good competition within their ranks," Fitzgibbon said.
"When you have competition and people biting at your heels, it makes you want to perform better.
"The likes of Adian, who's been absolute quality for us in the last few weeks, and Sione coming back last week, I thought he was good.
"And now Barney coming back, he was instrumental for us on the weekend ... wherever anyone fits in the 17, I think we'll be able to field a pretty strong squad, week in, week out."
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