It was a season like no other, heavily impacted by COVID and for the Knights in particular, a taxing travel schedule and an injury nightmare that threatened to completely derail a promising start.
But through it all, the club showed plenty of signs under rookie coach Adam O'Brien they have finally emerged from the deep, dark hole they have been in, with the odd exception, for the better part of a decade.
For the first time in a long while, the positives out-weighed the negatives and there was clear evidence, despite a lack of fight at the pointy end of the season, of a steely mentality developing again among the players due to O'Brien's hard-nosed standards.
There was much to like about the continued rise of Daniel Saifiti as a frontrow force but equally as impressive was the emergence of twin brother Jacob from his shadow. In Bradman Best, the Knights have a superstar of the future provided he is fit and healthy while Kalyn Ponga's toughness may have even out-shone his brilliance, which is saying something.
In the first of a three-part series that will run over the next few Saturdays, here is our Top 8 positives for 2020.
1. DROUGHT ENDS
Finally! Seven years of heartache for Knights fans ended with the club's first finals appearance since Danny Buderus was ironed out and left prone on the ground by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the preliminary final against the Sydney Roosters back in 2013.
Okay, so the side blew a golden opportunity to host the elimination semifinal in Newcastle with a final round capitulation on the Gold Coast and things didn't end well against Wayne Bennett's South Sydney a week later.
But the finals monkey is off their back and the players who hadn't played in the play-offs before now have a taste for it and should be hungry for more.
O'Brien's final words to his players in the dressingroom after the Rabbitohs loss ["What would you give to change that feeling in your gut right now"] should be dragged out repeatedly over the summer.
2. PANTHER PRIDE
Very rarely does a game define what you should stand for when you don't win it. But performances don't come any more courageous than the Knights' come-from-behind 14-all draw with eventual minor premiers Penrith back in round 3 in late May when the premiership resumed after the COVID break.
There was no Mitch Barnett or Jayden Brailey, Kalyn Ponga was out suspended and within the space of nine minutes at Campbelltown Stadium, skipper Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson were out of the game with concussion and injury respectively.
As a result, O'Brien had three debutants on the field [Tex Hoy, Chris Randall and Brodie Jones] as the Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first half but they were among a host of heroes in a golden point thriller that ended in a stalemate on the scoreboard.
Randall's 71 tackles for the game was a herculean effort.
Big Dave Klemmer described the team's performance after the game as one of the most courageous of any side he'd ever played with.
3. RISE OF THE SAFS
Daniel Saifiti is now one of the game's premier frontrowers. State of Origin at the end of the season proved that. But what is so encouraging for Knights fans is his twin brother Jacob, after a disappointing couple of seasons previously due largely to injury, bridged the gap in 2020.
The Knights now have three genuine world class props in the Safs and Klemmer to lay the foundations over the next few seasons for a title challenge.
Given their improvement over the past 12 months, it's exciting to think to what level the Saifiti boys will take their game under O'Brien in 2021 while Klemmer's snubbing by the Blues after another strong season will have him fired up to prove a point.
4. KINGY'S MOMENT
The 'Hammerhead' strikes. Just as Mitchell Pearce's emblem kiss against the Roosters in 2019 was a moment not to forget, so too was the sheer jubilation on the faces of teammates after Josh 'Hammerhead' King charged over for the first try of his career against the Sharks in round 17.
As far as spontaneous try celebrations go, this was right up there with the best of them as players, with their emotions spilling over, charged in from everywhere to swamp one of the club's most popular and respected players.
King finished the season playing just seven games but his pronounced improvement under O'Brien was enough to land him a new one-year deal with the club for 2021.
5. BEST TO COME
The Knights have a very special player in teenage centre Bradman Best, who gave us all a taste of what to look forward to in the coming years with his outstanding form early in the season before he was struck down by injury.
Try doubles against both Penrith and the Raiders had him being talked up as a potential Blues' Origin bolter early on with his power and pace making him almost impossible to stop one-on-one. But injuries took care of those aspirations.
Just to highlight his bad luck, Best finished the year needing three separate surgeries to repair foot and ankle problems that will restrict his pre-season. The good news is he should be fit and ready to go by kick-off next year.
Coach O'Brien made it his ambition when he first took the reins to put some steel back into the Knights defence and rid the side of the soft mentality of seasons' past.
Few would argue, despite their tired finish to the season, they took some big strides forward in that department.
Their fightback against Penrith, when they could easily have crumbled under the adversity was a case in point, as was the fight they showed in a 26-12 loss to Melbourne that had threatened to blow-out after the Knights trailed 18-0 in the first half.
They still have a way to go to get to where they need to be but there were some good signs.
7. MANNING UP
He's not the most skillful player out there but no-one played with more heart than Kurt Mann, who was close to the Knights best for a big chunk of the campaign.
That he was performing so well despite the heartache of not being able to get up to Queensland due to the bubble restrictions and border closure to visit his terminally ill mother until late in the season speaks volumes for his character.
8. WELFARE WORK
The Knights deserve plenty of praise for their bushfire appeal response up the coast and their efforts to assist farmers during a week long camp at Tamworth. Connor Watson was also recognised for his charity work by winning the Ken Stephens Medal.
What fans on Twitter liked about the Knights' season.
The emergence of Bradman Best. Two tries against the Panthers then backed it up with another double vs the Raiders.
Jacob Saifiti was one of the NRL's most improved players and Kurt Mann finally proved he's a deserved starter.
Year on year improvement from the locals, particularly JSaf, King and Randall. And we proved we're not that far off being a force to be reckoned with.
Best moment was being down against panthers at halftime and we lost pearce and watson and no ponga. The team dug deep and walked away with one point.
The first 10 minutes of the semifinal.
The Saifiti boys finally becoming the players we all knew they could be. Daniel had a brilliant season but Jacob narrowed the form gap. Both set for a huge 2021.
The effort against Penrith in Round 3. I've never been more proud of a Newcastle performance in my years following the club.
Breaking our finals drought.
The community work and hours put into the bushfire relief for smaller communities up north.
DSAF, JSAF, King, Best. Local boys having a red-hot go.
Chris Randall's debut in the golden point game against Penrith. Played more than 80 mins and made 71 tackles. Amazing effort.
The first scandal-free season since Joey's debut year.
Kurt Mann. Playing so well at 6 and covering at 9 whilst his mum was going through her illness. Takes a special player and person to do that.
First finals campaign in 7 years under a first year coach amidst a global pandemic. Nothing but upside.
The heart and mentality to still make our 1st finals despite of biggest injury toll.
Josh King's try. What a moment.
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