Cold, hard statistics may not indicate as much but the Knights are a far more advanced team now than they were 12 months ago after a 2021 season where they managed to bridge the gap between themselves and the premiership heavyweights.
Their seventh-placed finish and first weekend exit in the play-offs mirrored that of their previous season's effort in Adam O'Brien's first year as an NRL coach. But if you're a Knights fan, it was a far more encouraging seventh this year.
To make the finals despite having the second worst attack in the NRL suggests the squad made some big improvements on the other side of the footy in defence. But perhaps the most significant gains came between the ears of the players.
The soft mentality and serious lack of resolve under pressure that has plagued previous campaigns was replaced, for the most part, by a far more steely edge.
Individually, the likes of Daniel and Jacob Saifiti had great seasons, as did Mitch Barnett, Jayden Brailey and Connor Watson while Kalyn Ponga's freakish skill always threatened.
In the first of a three-part series over the next few days on the Knights, here is our Top 8 Positives for 2021.
If you thought breaking a seven-year finals drought in 2020 was an achievement, what about making back-to-back finals appearances for the first time in 18 years.
The Knights achieved it for the first time since 2003 despite lengthy injuries to key players such as Mitchell Pearce and Ponga and a stack of so-called media experts and former players who predicted before a ball was kicked they wouldn't make the eight.
All up, coach O'Brien was forced to use 31 players with his first choice spine of Ponga, Jake Clifford, Pearce and Jayden Brailey only playing a handful of games together.
Remarkably, the Knights were sitting 14th at the end of round 14 but won seven of their final 10 competition games to wrap up a finals berth heading into the final round.
They fell to Parramatta in week one of the play-offs but not before taking the Eels right to the wire.
2. TAMING TOMMY
If there was a game during the season that gave the Knights self-belief and proved they weren't just a punching bag for the heavyweights, it was their 18-10 round 12 win over Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium.
There was no Ponga, Pearce, Clifford or Kurt Mann for the Knights against a Manly side that was running hot having won five of their past six games leading in.
And they had a red-hot Tom Trbojevic salivating at the thought of how much carnage he would create in Newcastle.
But with a halves pairing of Phoenix Crossland and Connor Watson and Tex Hoy at fullback, the home side found a way to win, becoming one of the few teams in the competition to completely shut down the Manly fullback.
Daniel Saifiti's match-sealing try in the final minutes was one of the great moments of the season, almost rivaling Pearce's match-winning field-goal against the Titans in round 24 that wrapped up a finals berth.
3. RISE OF THE SAFS
Sounds like a great title for a movie. For Knights fans though, there is nothing fictional about the Saifiti twins Daniel and Jacob and their elevation to elite status among the game's premier frontrowers.
Daniel was again the cornerstone of the forward pack, building on his tremendous 2020 season with another dominant performance at both club and representative level. But so massive was Jacob's contribution to the side's success, he is now nipping at the heels of his brother after unseating David Klemmer from the starting side mid-season.
So highly valued was Jacob by the coaching staff, he walked away with the Danny Buderus Medal as their player of the year.
4. BRAILS A KEEPER
In 2020, he was 'Frail Brails' after playing just two games all season but he morphed into 'Tough-as-nails Brails' this year to become one of the Knights' key players.
It's little wonder the club was quick to tie hooker Jayden Brailey down on an extended contract.
Handed a co-captaincy role by O'Brien, Brailey was the epitome of what you want in your leader - hard-working, whole-hearted, inspirational.
His work ethic was second to none, finishing the season as the top-tackling player in the premiership. And if you are talking inspiration, think his unbelievable 70 metre covering tackle on a runaway Reece Walsh against the Warriors that saved a try and the match. How crucial was that effort play given how the season panned out?
5. CLIFFORD COUP
It's amazing to think back now at the barbs thrown by plenty of Knights fans at the club when it was first revealed they had signed this bloke from the Cowboys.
Many of those who were highly critical of his recruitment were the same fans singing Jake Clifford's praises by the end of the season.
There is no question prising Clifford out of the Cowboys mid-season turned out to be a masterstroke by O'Brien and the club's head of recruitment Clint Zammit.
Aside from anything else, his kicking game alone was a game-changer for the side and his combination with Pearce, in the end, was crucial to making the eight.
At just 23, his playmaking skills are only going to get better with Pearce and Blake Green as mentors.
6. WINNING UGLY
Predictable and painful to watch at times, the Knights attack rightly copped plenty of criticism during the season but crucially down the stretch when the pressure was on, the team found ways to win games they would have lost in previous seasons.
It may not have been pretty but it brought out the fight, desire and will-to-win in a team that generally had folded like a cheap suit in previous campaigns when the blow torch was applied.
There was no better example of their resolve than late season come-from-behind wins over Cronulla, Brisbane and Gold Coast, when they struggled for dominance with the footy but managed to prevail against equally desperate opposition.
7. THE BROTHERHOOD
The relocation of the competition to Queensland in July due to COVID was tough for all the squads and their families but everyone you talk to at the Knights will tell you living in each others' pockets for a few months on the Sunshine Coast has brought the playing group and staff so much closer together.
"It had its challenges initially but I thought we handled moving up there really well and was a great bonding experience for everyone," Adam O'Brien said.
8. BREAKOUT BRODIE
Brodie Jones was on the scrapeheap and sent back to the Cessnock Goannas for a game two seasons ago but in a great example to any local junior out there with aspirations, he is now a fully-fledged NRL player.
What fans on Twitter liked about the Knights' season.
Making finals for two consecutive seasons.
The rise and rise of JSAF.
The rise of the Twin Towers.
The Clifford/Pearce combination coming together at the back end of the season.
Another finals series despite injury season. Tough work.
Home win over Manly - Kalyn Ponga. Still.
Making a passable season out of a terrible injury toll.
Picking up Clifford mid-season really boosted the halves combo.
Grit, tenacity and team. Injuries could have crippled the season but they rallied and had intent, passion and purpose.
The effort we put in against Manly without so many players.
Brodie Jones getting better the more minutes he was given, JSaf stepping up to DSaf level.
The emergence of the Saifitis as two of the games genuine star props.
Putting foundations in play for a decent spine.
The change in culture and winning desire.
The development of Brodie Jones.
The rig on Sauaso Sue.
The round 12 win over Manly showed what we were capable of.
The improvement of Josh King.
Ability to stay in the fight - especially the last six weeks or so.
The emergence of JSaf and Clifford.
Winning seven of our last nine games to maintain a spot in the top eight.
Improvement of Jacob Saifiti.
Gaining an NRLW team.
Ability to grind out wins even with a poor attacking plan.
A coach willing to adapt, yet trust his systems.
The resilience and will-to-win developing within the playing group.
Jacob Saifiti, Jake Clifford.
The team found some resilience. The willingness to hang in there. To win ugly.
The ability to scrap their way into the finals despite only fielding their first choice spine a handful of times.
Making the 8. Unearthing some potential talent.
J saf had a huge year and great to see brailey play full season.
dom young and jake clifford. that's it, that's the tweet.
Good end to the season. Yes we lost in the first week but the effort was there. Week in, week out consistency has definitely improved.
Emergence of Brodie Jones. Saf bros killing it, Jesse Sue a real unsung signing.
Making the finals despite all the injuries to the spine. Saifiti bros really took a step forward.
Jayden Brailey's comntribution.
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