PHIL Gardner had been hoping Sydney Roosters would do the Knights a favour.
Now it might not be necessary.
Instead it was lowly Canterbury, of all teams, who presented Newcastle with the rails run in the race to secure home-ground advantage in week one of the finals.
The Bulldogs' 26-16 upset win against South Sydney on Thursday night means that the Knights can leapfrog Souths to finish sixth, depending on the outcome of their remaining regular-season games against St George Illawarra (home) and Gold Coast (away). Two wins would guarantee the Knights a home final. One win might be enough if Souths were to lose their final-round clash with the Roosters.
Knights/Wests Group CEO Gardner said hosting a final - the first in Newcastle since 2006 - would be "a fantastic achievement for the team, and great for the town".
"A home semi-final is really important for the fans," Gardner said.
"And when we [Wests] took this on, it was because of the fans, not because of any other reason. We all know how much the Knights mean to Newcastle.
"When the Knights are doing well, there is a real bounce in everyone's step. It's important that we're all proud of the team.
"So making the eight is good, but if we can get to sixth and a home semi-final, that to me is a great thing for the fans, and I know the players feel the same way."
The Knights last appeared in the play-offs in 2013. They finished 11th in their first two seasons under Wests' ownership.
Gardner said this season's progress under new coach Adam O'Brien had been pleasing but added: "I think no-one is happy just to make the eight, once you get there.
"The eight is certainly a milestone for us, if you think how far we've come in a very short period of time.
"It was roughly this time last year that I was sitting in the stands at Penrith [a 54-10 last-round loss].
"It was a very different feeling that day.
"The only way was up after that."
Gardner hopes the next step in Newcastle's evolution as a club will be to consistently challenge for a top-berth berth.
"History tells us that we need to be a consistent top-four performer to have the best chance of winning a comp," Gardner said.
"If we can finish sixth this year, it would be great, but it's probably an even bigger step from sixth into the top four, than it is from 10th to sixth.
"We saw that last weekend. The Roosters showed us what a top-four team looks like.
"That's where we want to get to. It's not going to be easy, but I think we now have the right people in place to get us there."
Gardner said the NSW government decision to allow finals venues to accommodate crowds of up to 50 per cent capacity was "a good outcome for everyone".
That could mean an attendance of close to 15,000, if the Knights qualify for hosting rights by finishing in the top six.
Ticketing for finals games is controlled by the NRL.
"I'd imagine however many tickets we are allocated, our members they will snap those up," Gardner said.
Meanwhile, towering Knights winger Edrick Lee will miss Sunday's clash with the Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium after withdrawing for personal reasons.
He will be replaced by centre Gehamat Shibasaki, whose recall is likely to prompt a backline re-shuffle.
Lee returned in last week's loss to the Roosters after spending 10 weeks on the sidelines with a broken arm.