THE Newcastle Knights gave a glimpse of the muscle and mongrel they too often lacked last season, grinding out an 18-6 win against South Sydney at Coffs Harbour International Stadium on Saturday night.
In their opening pre-season trial of 2013, the Knights sounded a warning that nobody will be pushing them around in their second year under master coach Wayne Bennett.
Having finished a disappointing 12th last season, Bennett is counting on strategic imports Jeremy Smith, Beau Scott and David Fa'alogo to give the Knights more starch round the rucks.
And on Saturday night's evidence, against a team who came within one win of last year's grand final before being eliminated by premiers Melbourne, Bennett must be confident his troops are on the right track.
Newcastle's "A Team" led 6-0 at half-time before Bennett replaced them en masse by his second stringers.
It was an encouraging hit-out against one of last season's heavyweights, although there was concern for enforcers Willie Mason and Smith, who were placed on report for a high tackle on Souths forward Dave Tyrrell in the 31st minute.
The Knights weathered a barrage of early pressure to post the game's opening try in the 10th minute.
After conceding three consecutive penalties, and allowing Souths great field position through a Darius Boyd kick-return fumble, the Knights turned defence into attack when winger Akuila Uate broke clear down the right edge.
Uate was rounded up by Souths fullback Greg Inglis, but seconds later fearless hooker Matt Hilder burrowed over from dummy-half to score next to the posts.
Knights skipper Kurt Gidley converted to give his team a 6-0 lead.
Smith wasted no time in adding some sting to Newcastle's defensive line, rattling Souths hooker Issac Luke in the 20th minute with a tackle that left him down on his haunches.
A glut of penalties allowed Souths to dominate possession in the second quarter but the Knights remained resolute, foiling potential tries down both flanks when the Rabbitohs were penalised for obstruction and then Uate crunched his opposite number, Nathan Merritt, jolting the ball free.
Merritt threatened soon afterwards but Boyd was on hand to force his grubber kick dead in goal.
Gidley was solid in his comeback match after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury that required reconstructive surgery.
He was replaced at half-time with the rest of Newcastle's first-choice stars.
Souths made fewer team changes at the break.
Inglis, Luke and playmaker Adam Reynolds were given an early shower, but Merritt, five-eighth John Sutton , Sam and George Burgess, Michael Crocker and Chris McQueen returned to the fray.
The back-up Knights were not shy on top-grade experience, with names like Fa'aologo, Anthony Quinn, Adam Cuthbertson, Alex McKinnon and Tyrone Roberts on the team sheet.
Roberts gave Newcastle a 12-0 lead in the 57th minute when he grubber-kicked, forced a fumble, and pounced on the loose ball to score a try he then converted.
With Reynolds returning for the final quarter, Souths narrowed the deficit to 12-6 in the 65th minute with a try by substitute Apisai Koroisau, converted by their All Stars halfback.
Roberts sealed the win with his second try in the final minute, dummying his way into space and backing up to score.
Peter Mata'utia converted.
Former Canberra hooker Travis Waddell, who is trialling for a contract with Newcastle, was used off the bench in both halves.