THE NRL finals can't come soon enough for Mitch Barnett.
But before Newcastle's back-row enforcer gets his first taste of play-off action - more than five years after making his top-grade debut - he realises there is one more vital box that needs to be ticked.
A win against Gold Coast Titans at CBus Stadium on Friday will confirm the Knights finish sixth on the competition ladder, entitling them to hosting rights against South Sydney in week one of the post-season.
Alternatively, should Newcastle lose to the Titans, Souths can potentially leapfrog them in the race for sixth spot, providing they are able to upset Sydney Roosters in Friday night's second game.
Given what is riding on the result, Barnett is confident the Knights will have no problems focusing on the immediate task and performing at optimum level.
"We're all excited about the finals, but we can't be getting ahead of ourselves," he told the Newcastle Herald.
"Obviously a home final would be huge for us. However many [fans] they get in there, it will sound like it's packed out and we'd rather play at home than have to go down to Sydney.
"But the Titans are going well. They'll be flying after their win against Manly and we can't be underestimating them. So we've got to prepare well this week and make sure we get the win."
Barnett's comments were echoed by Test prop David Klemmer, who in his column in League HQ today describes Friday's match as "one of the biggest" he has played in since joining the Knights.
After a slow start to the season, Gold Coast have won their past four games to climb to ninth on the ladder.
They have also scored four consecutive wins over the Knights on home turf.
Newcastle will be boosted by the return this week of hooker Kurt Mann (suspension), centre Bradman Best (injury) and winger Edrick Lee (personal leave), and Barnett believes the high-stakes games that lie ahead will bring out the best in his teammates.
"I think we'll be really energetic and upbeat," he said. "A lot of the boys will be playing finals for the first time, so there'll be a lot of excitement."
The 26-year-old admitted that when he joined the Knights midway through 2016, he did not expect to be waiting four years for his first appearance in the play-offs.
In his first two seasons, the Knights collected the wooden spoon but Barnett said the club had "come a long way" since then.
"It's obviously been a long time for me, personally, and a few of the other boys here as well," he said.
"We're in a completely different position, as a club, this year. We're a really close group and it's just really enjoyable being part of this club."