Only the return of Ali Lauiti'iti to the Warriors has denied him the title of the NRL's most senior statesman but Jeremy Smith says the young Knights squad is putting a spring in his step.
When the Knights turn out against the Titans in Round 1, Smith will be five weeks shy of his 36th birthday and a crucial figure in a Newcastle team that is the youngest in the NRL in 2016.
With his 12th NRL pre-season all but behind him now, Smith starts the new season without a contract beyond this year but says being around a Knights squad with 12 players under the age of 23 is all the motivation he needs to start the year strongly.
"I still enjoy going to training, we've got a lot of young kids and they keep me on my toes and I just like competing against them too," Smith told NRL.com.
"It's going to be an exciting season for us, we've got lots of young kids and I'm excited.
"The Saifiti boys have been training well, Jaelen Feeny has been going really well, Jake Mamo is always a standout, Tyler Randell, so there are a few boys there putting up their hands and it will be pretty tough for them come selection time."
With new coach Nathan Brown at the helm Smith concedes it may take a season or two before the young brigade find their feet in the top grade but says he has been encouraged by their attitude to training over the pre-season.
"When the going gets tough and you're under a bit of fatigue and you've got to do a bit of ballwork or contact, it's concentrating for that period of time," Smith said.
"I know your mind can slip a bit once they get a little bit tired and it makes it a little bit harder for them but everyone's been training well. Just see how they go when they get them under a bit of fatigue in games.
"'Browny' is helping the young kids come through and develop their skills and their reading of the game.
"Everyone's willing to learn and I think he'll be good for the club. He's done some good things so far with the young kids and it will be an exciting season for us.
"It will be a bit of time but the way they've picked up what Browny's been putting down at the moment I don't think it will be too long."
Twenty-four when he made his NRL debut for the Storm in 2004, Smith said he will wait until midway through the season before he makes a decision on whether to go around again in 2017.
"They're slowly wearing on me," Smith said of the gruelling pre-seasons. "The club have been good, the staff that they've got have really looked after me and got me through and topped me up when I needed topping up.
"The body's feeling good at the moment but like you said, after five or 10 rounds it could be a different story."