Consecutive finals appearances point to a club heading in the right direction but how much closer are the Knights to breaking their two-decade long premiership drought?
There were definitely some positive signs around coach Adam O'Brien's continued search for defensive consistency, resilience and a more steely mentality from his players.
They won games last season they wouldn't have in 2020. There were exceptions but overall, there was more grit, more sustained effort, a greater work ethic and more belief. But none of that is ingrained in this squad yet and until it is, they won't consistently start beating the heavyweights.
They also won't beat them unless there is a significant revamp to their largely structured and predictable attack, which floundered badly under the new rules, initially because of injuries to key players like Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga during the first half of the season.
But even when everyone was on deck at the back-end, the lack of any real improvement in that area and the heavy reliance on Ponga to produce something special suggests the coaching staff will have plenty to work on when pre-season training kicks off next month.
In the second of our three-part Knights' season review series, here is our Top 8 negatives from 2021.
1. ATTACK FLAK
Poor, predictable, pedestrian, pop-gun! Call it what you want because there is no hiding from the truth when it comes to Newcastle's attack last season. For the most part, all the widespread criticism was warranted.
The stats say it all. On points scored alone, the Knights were the second worse in the NRL above only wooden-spooners Canterbury after scoring just 428 points in 24 games at an average of 17 a game. The fact they finished seventh was off the back of improved defence, a soft draw and their ability to hang in and win some close games.
In another telling stat, the Knights finished second overall for one pass hit-ups, a sure sign of predictability and a real lack of imagination while in possession. At the same time, they finished near the bottom for off-loads and second phase footy.
Not having their spine together at training and on the field due to injuries throughout the year was clearly a big factor but even when Pearce, Ponga, Jake Clifford and Jayden Brailey were there at the back-end of the season, there was still a clunkiness about the way the team used the footy.
Centre Bradman Best, one of the most threatening outside backs in the game, became a casualty of his side's inability to get him the ball in advantageous situations.
2. INJURY CURSE
For the second straight year since Adam O'Brien took over as coach, the Knights had next to no luck on the injury front.
He was forced to use 31 players during the season as a result and at one stage, had to call up part-timer Mat Croker, who wasn't even under contract, to make his NRL debut.
To make matters worse, there were injuries to key players, notably Pearce, Ponga, Best and Daniel Saifiti.
Ponga missed the opening month after taking longer than expected to recover from off-season shoulder surgery before a supposed minor groin tear was misdiagnosed and kept him sidelined for six weeks. He played 15 games all up. Best played 17.
For the second time in four years, Pearce tore his pec and ended up playing just 12 of his side's 25 games. Significantly, they won eight of the 12.
All up, Pearce, Ponga, Clifford and Brailey only played a handful of games together.
3. EDDIE'S ABSENCE
Edrick Lee was on top of the world after scoring a try in his Origin debut for Queensland in their series-deciding win over the Blues at the end of 2020.
Then he seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.
In his first week back at pre-season training in January, Lee broke a bone in his foot which the club thought may prevent him from starting the season on time. Little did they know it would prevent him from playing at all and may, in fact, end his career.
A planned return to the field seven or eight weeks into the season after rehabbing his foot was aborted when a scan revealed the fracture had not healed at all.
After seeking a number of specialists' opinions, he eventually underwent delicate surgery, hoping for a successful outcome to allow him to play again. He was a big loss.
Without him, the Knights not only lost a target man under the high ball but also an experienced winger capable of starting sets off strongly coming off his own line.
When you talk about defeats that cost the Knights a stronger finishing position in the top eight, look no further than their two losses to Wests Tigers, a team who were, for most of the year, the 'toothless Tigers'.
If the Knights error-riddled 24-20 loss in round three at home after two straight wins to start the season wasn't enough, they backed it up with an embarrassing performance in a 36-18 loss to the Tigers in Magic Round.
5. MOVING ON
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Depending on which way you look at it, Connor Watson's shock defection to the Roosters is either a vote of no confidence in how fast he believes the Knights can develop into a premiership force or a sign he thinks his own career can flourish more at Bondi.
As for another departing player Josh King, there won't be a Knights fan out there who doesn't hope he kills it at the Storm.
In a sign of their growing maturity, the Knights turned the relocation of the competition to Queensland in July from a negative into a positive experience after the NRL did a great job to keep the game going.
But for fans in Newcastle, who saw only a fleeting glimpse of their team live in a COVID-ravaged 2020 season, the final three months of the season with the Queensland borders shut were another real let-down.
7. A COMPLEX ISSUE
For all their added belief and resilience, the Knights seem to have an inferiority complex when it comes to the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters. It's almost like they are beaten before they run out.
A week after thrashing the Cowboys 38-0 in round 16, they were battered 48-4 by the Storm. The stats against Melbourne make awful reading if you're a Knights fan.
The Knights have lost their last 10 against the Storm and since 2010, have won just three of 21 games. Against the Roosters, they have won only two of their last 16 matches. In their only clash this year, Newcastle led 8-0 against a heavily depleted Roosters before losing 28-8.
If it's a mindset thing, O'Brien and his players must find a way to change it.
8. ALWAYS ON EDGE
Edge defence hasn't been a Knights' strong point for a long time and not a whole lot changed in 2021. Some counting lessons may be a good start.
What Knights fans on Twitter didn't like about the club's 2021 season.
The lack of creativity with the ball. @Jabbasuperjet
Lack of depth. @PanfaU
Our attack had no cohesion and was hard to watch. @tra86v
Points difference is evidence we weren't scoring enough points. Fan favourite C Watson leaving. @ThorAWL
Injuries. We lacked so much cohesion and it hurt us all year. @NewyFootyFan
Lack of off-loads/second phase. @DavidBalfou
Attacking potency @adawesy1
Bradman Best injuries really killed my SC and Newcastle's season. Benwithnonumber
Injuries, injuries, injuries @james52841997
Injuries. Connor Watson leaving. @BecPrestwidge
Lowering their standards against bad teams. @Sutto2606
Making us move to QLD. @AMW_2021
The injuries and not re-signing Connor Watson. @cardamonfives
No X Factor other than Ponga. @razzninho
Adam O'Brien's coaching future will hinge on him getting the attack right. It was shite all year. So predictable given the new rules. @teresi_tommy
Lack of Edrick Lee and why all the secrecy @brookyhater
Not capitalising on an easy draw @PriscMont
The way Watson was used. @bulldogzrep
Averaged 17 points per game. @terainaRC
Ponga's positional play at the back. Horrendous @Packedknight
Too much reliance on Ponga for attacking ideas and spark. @Stick_Beetle
Too many off weeks where performance wasn't at the level they showed it could be.@mattySP_
Fullbacks who refuse to tackle. Halfbacks who refuse to run @Howyakoen
Game plans lack creativity @jenko_seven
No Edrick Lee @shiftykc
Lack of enthusiasm and strength to finish out the back end of games. thomsen_26
Your new half killed Ponga's best offence @BrewSC22
What they do after their 5th tackle.. @pinchtick
Connor Watson leaving. Bradman Best not getting quality ball. @SethJones2
Attack was pedestrian @adween6664
Defence from the centres out was at times laughable @Hawk2221
Injuries. Poor attack @jazzymac89
Brain fades at crucial times in crucial games. @mmeek1987
Outside backs defence. @BeinkeTom
We need Pearce to be captain. We lacked direction. @floggsie
Lack of 'eyes up' footy. @redrok923
Injuries stopped us seeing the best of the Knights. Losing a player the quality of Kingy. @benpayne01
Keeping Mitchell Pearce - losing Connor Watson @toniambrogetti
Losing twice to the Tigers was extremely disappointing @BUCKET40K
Love KP as a player. Jury still out regarding leading the club forward as captain. audrewdw
Lack of creativity in attack. Watson dogging us. @KitaandMat
Defence from outside backs at the rear was very ordinary. @LobbNeil
"Last tackle for Newcastle. Brailey away to Pearce who puts up a mid-field bomb" - every damn time @Thomas58974615
Long injury toll, poor defence and attack which left us with an horrific points differential. @vella_jay
Having a thoroughbred centre consistently not used by the inside distributor @insipidcharisma
Inconsistency and defence lapses. Not getting Kalyn early ball was frustrating @IanThom05185404
Terrace Magpies have a better attack. @ToothDarren
Turnstyle injuries, lack of composure in creating and building momentum in attack. @BreeseTracey
Ponga's last line of defence @milo25b
Failing to fully capitalise on soft draw @moloney1996
No off-loads or 2nd phase play @The_Walrus007
Not progressing in the finals. Not being as resilient as they need to be. @JSP2283
Lack of NSW Cup hurt us in the depth department. @corey_tutt