Newcastle coach Nathan Brown hopes his beefed-up pack passes the taste test against the ravenous, ruthless Sharks forwards in their season-opener at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
Brown recruited hard heads David Klemmer (Bulldogs), Tim Glasby (Storm) and James Gavet (Warriors) to add muscle and mongrel to the Knights, who have too often been easy meat against physical teams since he took charge in 2016.
Cronulla won 30-6 when these sides met in a trial at Maitland on March 2, and new Sharks coach John Morris had the luxury of resting pack leaders Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita for the second half.
Brown was disappointed with his team's overall performance, especially their high error count, but he saw enough to believe the Knights were capable of competing against the NRL’s heavyweights.
"They're not going to be running out and learning their way in first grade. They've already played their couple of hundred games and they know how to do the business," Brown said of the Cronulla forwards after the Knights' final training run on Friday.
"They've got a hardened, experienced team, but we'd like to think that we can certainly make them have a different opinion of us than what they've had over the past three years."
Cronulla have won eight straight NRL games against Newcastle, including the past six on Brown's watch by a combined score of 229-62. The Sharks won the two meetings last year 48-10 and 38-12.
Playmakers Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson were unable to build any attacking pressure in the Maitland trial because there were so many handling mistakes, but Brown was pleased with the metres Newcastle made up the middle.
"Cronulla's had a lot of success at us in that area of the field, but now with the guys that we've added and the experience that our own players have gained and where they're at physically now, we feel like that's an area where we'd like to think that we can compete a lot better.
"I suppose it will be in the playing, but we certainly do feel we're in a better situation than we have been any other time that we've played the Sharks."
Klemmer, Glasby and Gavet will join Hymel Hunt, Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee and Kurt Mann as seven Knights debutants on Friday night but Brown said their presence would not guarantee success.
Hunt was selected despite missing trials against Cronulla and the Dragons because of a hamstring injury, and Mann was named as the bench utility and to support starting hooker Danny Levi.
"Regardless of how much these guys have improved our roster on paper and with reputations, there's still an element of the game that you've got to deliver on the field," the coach said.
"If there was any thought that the NRL was going to be easy because we've got better players, I think that was probably taken away from us there [trial]."
Brown said centre Tautau Moga would make his return from reconstructive knee surgery in the Canterbury Cup NSW game against Newtown.
Prop Herman Ese’ese, omitted from the 17 to play the Sharks, would also spend some time in the middle in the curtain-raiser against the Jets.
"We're comfortable with the squad we've picked, and we're also comfortable that there's some blokes playing behind them tomorrow who will keep the pressure on," Brown said.
Brown said the result against Cronulla would not necessarily indicate how successful the Knights would be this year "but you certainly want to show some signs of what type of team you want to be, and we'd be hopeful of putting in a performance what would suggest we're moving forward."