THE late inclusion of 2001 premiership hero Daniel Abraham and NRL tyro Zane Tetevano lifted Newcastle to a thrilling 28-24 win against North Sydney yesterday in week one of the NSW Cup play-offs.
The Knights subsequently earned the week off and are just 80 minutes from the grand final.
They will play the winner of next week's sudden-death showdown between Wentworthville and Balmain.
Knights coach Rip Taylor said he would have preferred a less stressful afternoon, having led 28-4 early in the second half before the Bears launched a remarkable comeback.
But he was delighted to have secured direct passage into the grand final qualifier.
"We didn't have to make it that close," Taylor said with a laugh.
"It was obviously a game of two halves. They had 24 sets in the second half and we only had 12, and they had all the penalties too.
"If you haven't got the ball, it makes it tough.
"But we've been speaking about opportunities, and they're a week away from the last weekend in September, and that's what it's all about. So they've given themselves at least a chance."
Taylor said the week off would be invaluable, especially for young halfback Adrian Davis, who missed yesterday's game with a minor knee injury.
"We needed the week off," he said.
"There are a few corks and bumps and bruises, but nothing that will keep anyone out of the next game."
Taylor said the plan to include Abraham, who has played all season with Kurri, was hatched early last week to help Newcastle cope with the absence of back-rowers Joel Edwards and Mat Hilder, who had not played enough games to qualify for the NSW Cup finals.
The 31-year-old former Country Origin representative, who played in 100 NRL games for Newcastle between 2000 and 2007, lasted almost 60 minutes.
"Abes and Matt Shipway and Alex Moore came in to help us because we were short of troops, and Abes and Alex Moore got a run," Taylor said. "I'm hoping to keep them in the squad. "I don't know if they'll actually get a run next time - at this stage it's a bit far out for me to say - but we certainly appreciated it. "They held their gloves up, the boys, that's for sure . . . we just gave them a round of applause for helping out."
Tetevano was not named on the team sheet because Taylor said it was not until late last week Newcastle officials realised he was eligible to play.
The Kiwi-born prop, who played the last 11 games of the NRL season in Newcastle's top team, scored a crucial try and provided his usual powerful hit-ups.
"He didn't train with us Wednesday, because he didn't know," Taylor said.
"I got him to training on Friday, so that was a bonus for us."
Newcastle's team includes a host of experienced customers - in particular former Kiwi internationals Evarn Tuimavave and Junior Sa'u and Fiji Test skipper Wes Naiqama - all of whom are parting company with the Knights at the end of the season, as is Taylor.
All now have the opportunity to bow out on a high note, and on form over the past month, Newcastle deserve to be warm favourites for the premiership.
Qualifying third for the play-offs, they have beaten minor premiers Canterbury and had a draw and a win against second-placed Norths in their past three outings.
Taylor was confident that if Newcastle could reproduce their first-half form from yesterday, they would take some stopping.