THE Newcastle Knights' seven-year finals drought is officially over.
After Newcastle's 38-10 trouncing of Cronulla on Friday night, followed by Parramatta's 24-18 win against the Warriors on Sunday, the Knights are seven points clear of ninth-placed Wests Tigers, with three regular-season games to play, and are hence guaranteed a berth in the play-offs for the first time since 2013.
But this is no time to rest on their laurels, given that Newcastle's next assignment will be defending two-time premiers Sydney Roosters at the SCG on Saturday.
And to make that challenge even more daunting, the Knights are likely to be without their hat-trick hero from Friday night, superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien will delay making a final decision on the make-up of his squad until Tuesday, but the Newcastle Herald has learned Tex Hoy is poised to deputise for Ponga, who will be rested following his heroics against the Sharks.
Ponga came in for plenty of heavy treatment from the Cronulla defence, prompting O'Brien to laud his toughness as well as his brilliance after the win.
He played on despite suffering a badly broken nose and being the victim of a bizarre shoulder charge that saw Sharks halfback Chad Townsend sent off and subsequently suspended.
It's understood O'Brien will also consider resting one or two other players against the Roosters.
Prop Daniel Saifiti, winger Edrick Lee and possibly back-rower Sione Mata'utia are all a chance to return from injury.
Ponga's likely absence means his showdown with Roosters champion James Tedesco won't go ahead.
While Ponga was in dazzling form on Friday night, Tedesco was just as impressive 24 hours later, scoring two tries in the Roosters' 18-6 win against Canberra.
The Roosters are already $1.15 favourites with betting agencies, but Newcastle will go into the game with confidence and momentum after trouncing the Sharks.
"The way we prepared this week to get ourselves that type of performance is the same preparation we need to go and attack this next week, whoever we're playing," Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce said.
"This week it's the Roosters. They've obviously been a benchmark team for the last 10 years, and they're going to be a real challenge for us. But if we prepare as well as we can, we'd like to back up with another good performance."
The Knights are sixth on the ladder, three points behind the fourth-placed Roosters, and will qualify for a home final if they finish in the top six.