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O'Brien: Knights in 'much better state'  to handle finals than in 2020

Knights coach Adam O'Brien believes Newcastle are far more equipped to handle the finals pressure this time around with last year's first-week exit continuing to serve as motivation.

O'Brien admitted "relief" was the underlying emotion in 2020 as they broke a six-year playoffs drought in the coach's maiden campaign.

But the occasion ultimately got to the Knights and after a fast start they were thumped 46-20 in an eliminator against the Rabbitohs.

After learning from that experience, O'Brien considers Newcastle a stronger force leading into Sunday's sudden-death clash with the Eels.

"I think, looking back – and you're always better for hindsight – I felt like there was just such a relief that they'd made finals," he said.

"You're always better for going through something once, but looking back on our time last year, I thought our energy levels at the back-end of the year weren't where they are at the moment.

Eels v Knights - Elimination Final

"And I just think that that relief became enough for us. That hurt still lingers from that [South Sydney] game with this side and I'd anticipate that that drives us a fair bit at the moment.

"But we're in a much better state physically and mentally at the moment than what we were last year."

O'Brien declared there would be "no excuses" for the Knights with props Daniel Saifiti (knee) and David Klemmer (ribs) expected to play provided they pull up well from Saturday's training session.

That will give O'Brien a near full-strength outfit.

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"It's been a long time coming. We've spoken a lot about the spine, but also to get our forward pack back together [is great]," he said.

"We've missed Daniel, his experience. It's good to have all those guys back on deck and we'll have no excuses. We'll put out a fairly strong team and we've prepared well."

Newcastle have placed an emphasis on countering Parramatta's aggression and willingness to compete in the opening exchanges.

Beyond that, O'Brien said it will come down to attacking accuracy.

"In these big games, the ball needs to go where it needs to get to, it needs to land in front of the man, your timing needs to be good on shape," he said ahead of the match at Rockhampton's Browne Park.

"You've got to grab your opportunities because in these big games you don't get a lot of them. I'm confident that the guys understand the plan. Now it's about going and executing it."

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