The Newcastle Knights have hit the ground running with a host of players recording personal-best times at training as multiple big-name stars got their 2024 preparations underway on Thursday.
Among those returning from their off-season breaks to formally start the pre-season were skipper Kalyn Ponga and halfback Jackson Hastings, who is still recovering from recent leg surgery.
The players were put through their paces at the club's Broadmeadow training centre, where a host of youngsters and some first-grade regulars have been hard at it in recent weeks.
"I reckon 90 per cent of us just ran PBs," forward Mat Croker said.
"The boys come back in good nick. We had some competition because the young fellas that started early, they set the bar pretty high. There was a few boys chasing times and I think they all got pretty close."
MORE IN SPORT
Plenty of players had completed training on their own ahead of recommencing with the broader squad.
Croker said after their 2023 campaign - Newcastle ran fifth after 10 consecutive wins before being knocked out in the semi-finals - the players were eager to build on what they achieved.
"Once we go knocked out, everyone was in here pretty quick because I think we didn't really want it to end," he said.
"We haven't really stopped, and I think that showed today with how well the boys ran and how well the testing has gone.
"I think that's a good sign because we want to keep chasing what we created."
Newcastle's last pre-season was routinely hailed by coach Adam O'Brien through 2023 as a reason for their improvement - the team ran 14th the year prior - and Croker said the players wouldn't be resting on their laurels this summer.
"Last year ... coming into the pre-season I think we felt ... pressure to re-build the team. Whereas now we need to maintain it," he said.
"We need to go up a level ... we can't sit and be complacent."