Gruelling season catches up with the Knights
They've defied their ladder position to be one of the most resilient sides in the Telstra Premiership all season but it was clear during Friday night's 46-28 loss to the Raiders that the gruelling campaign had finally caught up with the Knights.
They might be on track for their third wooden spoon in a row, but apart from a few hefty losses, 2017 has been a year to remember for Newcastle who have turned up on a weekly basis to do themselves and their town proud.
Knights coach Nathan Brown deserves a lot of the credit for instilling a steely belief in his young squad, but there were signs on Friday that their dogged effort might be waning with a week to go in the season.
The writing was on the wall last week when they were spanked at home by competition favourites the Storm, and those defensive deficiencies continued against the Green Machine with 11 of their 13 starters missing at least one tackle in the first 40 minutes.
"It's been a long year for a lot of our players," Brown conceded after the game.
"We got beaten up pretty badly last week and we've been up for a long time. Apart from the Tigers game, the players have put a lot into a lot of games and we put a lot into last week's game but in the last 20 minutes or so the Storm gave it to us.
"Today we looked like a side that had come to the end of a fairly long campaign. Like a lot of sides we've got a lot of blokes wounded now and a lot of blokes playing wounded and a lot of young blokes who probably need to go into paddock and that's how I thought we looked. We looked tired and we didn't really look quite there.
"We had some blokes who were really good and then we had blokes at the other end of the scale who were really poor; not to the standard of first grade that you need. I thought we got what we pretty much deserved."
To their credit, the Knights were still in the hunt and looked likely to cause an upset when Daniel Saifiti crashed over early in the second half to cut the gap to 10 points.
Instead, the Raiders piled on the next three tries to kill off the contest to leave Newcastle rooted to the foot of the table with one round remaining.
"I was comfortable at half-time that we could score the points because I thought we showed that in the first half when we did have some ball," Brown said.
"Our defence and our ability in some areas was always going to be the big challenge, and when we did get back into the contest, pretty much straightaway they got down there and we leaked a try reasonably quickly and that was pretty much the night for us."