HIS time at the Knights is rapidly drawing to a close, but Herman Ese'ese has vowed to deal with some unfinished business before he departs for the Gold Coast.
When he joined Newcastle from Brisbane at the end of 2017, one of Ese'ese's main goals was to help the three-time wooden spooners climb towards the other end of the competition ladder.
That box has been ticked, given that the Knights have guaranteed themselves a spot in the play-offs for the first time since 2013.
With two regular-season games remaining, against St George Illawarra (home) and the Titans (away), the big questions are whether Newcastle can improve on their current position of seventh, which would allow them to host a final at McDonald Jones Stadium, and whether they can do any damage during the do-or-die phase of their campaign.
From Ese'ese's perspective, each win in the post-season will prolong his tenure at the Knights, and he remains supremely confident Newcastle can rise to the occasion in the play-offs.
"Obviously it's my final season here and we've only got a couple more games in the regular season, and I want to go all the way with this team," the 26-year-old middle forward said.
"I'm confident we've got the boys here to do it, to go all the way to the big dance.
I'm confident we've got the boys here to do it, to go all the way to the big dance.HERMAN ESE'ESE
"But we're just taking it as one game each week, and hopefully we go deep into the finals."
The Kiwi international said his teammates were "definitely" targeting a top-six spot in the finals, which ensures home-ground advantage in week one.
After 18 games, they were one point adrift of sixth-placed South Sydney and three points behind fifth-placed Canberra.
Newcastle's best-case scenario would appear to be that they beat the Dragons and Titans, and the Rabbitohs lose at least one of their last two games.
That would allow the Knights to leapfrog the Rabbitohs and host them in a sudden-death final.
"A home semi is definitely what we're vying for," Ese'ese said. "The next two teams we play are not in the finals, but we can expect them to come out firing. We can't take these games lightly, because a home semi is definitely what we're aiming for ... it's been a while since we've been in the finals, and a home semi with a home crowd would be ideal for us."
Ese'ese signed a two-year deal with the Titans in July, after the Knights conceded they would not be able to match the offer he had received.
While he will be part of an exciting new-look Gold Coast pack that will also include David Fifita (Brisbane) and Tino Faasuamaleaui (Melbourne), he admitted it would be a sad day when he parts company with his Newcastle teammates.
"I'll probably tear up, to be honest," he said. "Before I came here, I didn't really know many of the boys.
"Three years later, they're my brothers now and I've grown a close bond with all of them. I'll definitely be emotional, after that last game."
Until then, he is staying focused on "bringing the energy" each week when coach Adam O'Brien unleashes him off the interchange bench.
"Personally I'd like to start, but I put the team first," he said. "Whatever is best for the team ... it's just keeping that momentum going when us bench boys come on."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
- Newcastle Knights winger Edrick Lee is armed and dangerous and packing some impressive hardware
- Coronavirus stadium changes to 50 per cent capacity could apply to McDonald Jones Stadium, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirms
- Rugby League: Jacob McCudden's a new kid on the Maitland block
- Seven Days in League: How sharp is Arrow looking?