THEY'VE lost five of their past six games, are coming off a 38-4 thumping at home against the Sydney Roosters and now head into a defining phase of their season without a recognised first receiver.
Yet Knights coach Adam O'Brien insists Newcastle's uninspiring 2021 campaign is "not gone yet".
After eight rounds, the Knights are languishing in 11th position, although the ladder is so congested they are on the same points as eighth-placed Gold Coast.
On Saturday they will face the equally desperate Canberra minus veteran halfback Blake Green, who suffered a suspected fractured rib in the loss to the Roosters.
"There's stuff protruding there, not through the skin, but it's either broken or cracked," O'Brien said after Saturday's game.
"He's in a fair bit of pain ... it's not looking great, certainly not for the short term."
In the absence of Green and Mitchell Pearce (pectoral), O'Brien is set to choose between youngsters Phoenix Crossland and Tex Hoy to partner Kurt Mann in a new-look and inexperienced scrumbase pairing.
Crossland, 20, has played in eight NRL games and was the starting five-eighth in Newcastle's 20-16 win against the Warriors in round two.
Hoy has 13 top-grade games to his name, as either fullback or as bench utility. The 21-year-old played five-eighth for Newcastle's NSW Cup side in their loss to North Sydney on Saturday.
"I think it's between those two guys," O'Brien said.
The injuries to Pearce and Green leave the versatile Mann as Newcastle's senior playmaker, but he has limited experience as a halfback, having worn the No.7 jersey only five times in his 133-game NRL career.
A candid O'Brien admitted after Saturday's defeat that he was not sure if his players were hungry enough for success.
"We're not the team that we were last year," O'Brien admitted.
"Even though we had injuries last year, we've had them again this year, but we were excited by our footy [last season].
"There'll be some stuff for me there, lying in and around all that, too.
"We'll have a conversation about it tomorrow and see if we can find some solutions to get excited about this season, because it's not gone yet. But we need to make some decisions on what we want to get out of it."
O'Brien said the Roosters, who scored seven tries to one despite the absence of champions James Tedesco, Luke Keary, Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend, out-enthused his team in front of a disappointed home crowd of 22,172.
"They're excited by their footy," he said of the Roosters.
"They compete, they look for opportunities and then they're almost pushing each other out of the way to take advantage of them. We're not there. We're not doing that at all.
"Whether it's a confidence thing or whatever, we've got to find some solutions and find them quick."
Having been assistant coach at the Roosters in their 2019 premiership-winning campaign, O'Brien understands as well as anyone what make them tick.
"They know what success is, they've had it and they're hungry to get it again," he said after Saturday night's loss at McDonald Jones Stadium.
"We don't seem to have that level of hunger."