Newcastle legend Andrew Johns believes the Knights’ recent run of good form could be converted into a long-awaited NRL finals appearance as soon as next season.
Wooden spooners for the past two seasons, the Knights have shown signs of life after following up their upset win of St George Illawarra with a 26-10 walkover of the Warriors on Saturday.
It’s the first time they have recorded back-to-back wins in over 700 days, and it instantly doubled their total win account for the season.
The turnaround based on improving local talent, together with a growing recruitment drive headed by emerging stars Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga, prompted Johns to predict that the finals are a genuine possibility in 2018.
The Knights haven’t played in the post-season since 2012.
Johns hailed the growth of local juniors Daniel Saifiti, Luke Yates, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Brock Lamb and skipper Sione Mata’utia, all under 22 years of age.
“All the young players combining. They all came through the system in the SG Ball and the Jersey Flegg together,” Johns said on The Sunday Footy Show.
“They’re building, the Knights. The players they’ve bought next year with a bit of class, another off-season, I think next year they’ll be around semi-final area, around the eight.”
Johns, who was part of the Knights’ premierships in 1997 and 2001, reserved special praise for the development of Lamb since his nightmare showing against Canterbury in round 18.
Lamb had arguably the best game of his career against the Warriors, setting up two tries and three line breaks to go with his own try.
“Some of the biggest lessons we learn are the toughest ones. He’s had to learn some tough lessons, he’s come into a side that’s struggling at a young age,” Johns said.
“But in the last couple of weeks, you can see how well he sees the game, and his control. He understands space, he understands when to run and when to pass.”