THE Newcastle Knights are one win from home-ground advantage in the opening week of the play-offs after overpowering St George Illawarra 42-18 at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.
The result lifted Newcastle to sixth on the ladder, leapfrogging South Sydney, with one regular-season fixture to play.
After the penultimate round, Newcastle and Souths are guaranteed to finish either sixth or seventh, with the higher-placed team to host the other in an elimination play-off.
If the Knights beat Gold Coast (away) in their last regular-season game on Friday, they are certain to finish sixth, ensuring a do-or-die final on their own turf.
If Newcastle are beaten by the Titans and Souths win their game against Sydney Roosters, the roles will be reversed and Souths will instead host Newcastle, most likely at ANZ Stadium.
Knights coach Adam O'Brien said even if the crowd capacity is restricted to 50 per cent because of social-distancing regulations, it would still be "huge" to host a play-off in Newcastle for the first time since 2006.
"I've been here [McDonald Jones Stadium] when the place is rocking," O'Brien said.
"I understand how difficult it is to come up the highway and play here.
"So, yeah, it would be huge. It'd be great for everyone, our supporters, to have a home semi. But we're not there yet. We've got a game in five days against a team that's going really well."
O'Brien's troops will need to be wary of the Titans, who have won four consecutive games and climbed to ninth on the ladder. They have also beaten the Knights in their past four clashes on the Gold Coast.
O'Brien described his team's inconsistency as "the elephant in the room", but added that on their day Newcastle could compete with any team.
"I think our best footy holds up against everyone," he said.
"We've shown it against Canberra. We've shown it against Penrith, we've beaten Manly [twice]. All we've got to do is get us right and I'm confident it will hold up."
The Knights led 30-6 at half-time against the Dragons, after in-form Kalyn Ponga stamped his class on proceedings from the outset.
Ponga scored the opening try after four minutes, supporting a break from hooker Chris Randall, and produced try assists for Aidan Guerra and Enari Tuala, who scored a double. While the fullback was tormenting the Dragons with his array of silky skills, twin towers Daniel and Jacob Saifiti took a more direct approach, crashing over from close range.
Newcastle's other try was scored by recalled centre Gehamat Shibasaki, while five-eighth Mason Lino - an 11th-hour inclusion after Tex Hoy suffered a hamstring strain - kicked seven goals from as many attempts.
Lino's form has presented O'Brien with a selection dilemma in choosing his squad to face the Titans.
Teenage centre Bradman Best is also expected to come into calculations after spending seven weeks recovering from ankle surgery.
Hooker Kurt Mann (suspension) and winger Edrick Lee, who missed Sunday's game through personal reasons, are both likely to return.
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
IN THE NEWS: