Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Newcastle's habit of starting poorly and past failure after a bye will be put to the test on Saturday as the Knights face ladder leaders Gold Coast at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
The Knights view Saturday's clash as a chance to gauge how they rank among the NRL frontrunners but know they cannot afford to play as they have in the opening six weeks.
Newcastle have led just once at halftime this year and have conceded double the points they've scored in the opening 20 minutes of games in 2008.
But in their favour is the fact they've yet to concede more tries than their opposition in any game this year despite suffering three losses.
Newcastle have built their season on second half comebacks, scoring almost double their opponents score and conceding fewer than half the points they have in the opening 40 minutes of games.
However the Knights know they cannot rely on a strong finish to upset the flying Titans riding a club record five-game winning streak.
Halfback Jarrod Mullen, back after three weeks out with a calf strain, says fixing the Knights' sluggish starts has been the primary objective at training in the two weeks since their inspired 34-20 win over Sydney Roosters.
So too has the desire to erase the memory of the club record 71-6 flogging they copped from Brisbane when they last had a bye in 2007.
"Some teams come out after the bye and play terribly, others come out refreshed and play well," said Mullen.
"Hopefully we are one of those teams that come out and put it to them and stick it to them in the first 20 minutes like we have not been doing in the past couple of weeks.
"That's our aim this week."
Mullen has another personal aim this week as he faces the form halfback of the NRL in Titans captain Scott Prince.
Prince has been in scintillating touch in the Titans 6-1 start and will be keen to further press his State of Origin claims as the bye next week makes this his final performance before the Queensland team is selected.
Mullen too is aiming for an Origin recall, the NSW aspirant at long odds in the betting for a Blues jumper but a winning performance over Prince would significantly boost his claims.
"He is one of my favourite players in the NRL, I love watching him," Mullen said of Prince.
"I want to try and shut him down.
"He will be tough and I have to look out for him.
"They have got a few strike weapons too and we have to shut them all down.
"We have got to show them respect, but not too much respect."
The Knights will wait until lunchtime on Saturday to decide if Country stars Danny Buderus and Ben Cross are fit to play, while the Titans will bring 18 men to Newcastle just in case their trio Anthony Laffranchi, Brett Delaney and Mark Minichiello can't back up from rep duty.