Well, dare I say it? The Knights are officially "on a roll".
Three straight wins has rocketed the Novocastrians up the table to within a whisker of that long elusive top-eight position. Of course there's plenty of ups and downs to come as this season plays out, but it's safe to say the past few weeks have been a turning point in the club's fortunes.
Again, it was their intensity in defence that snuck the boys home in Brisbane's Magic Round last week, combined with determined running and an organised and patient game plan.
The Knights leaked just eight missed tackles, while forcing a diabolical 38 misses on the opposition. A significant advantage by any measure and enough to give Nathan Brown's offensive ambitions a huge confidence boost.
That said, the Knights were, on occasions, defensively vulnerable on the edges with the back-rowers needing to be far more decisive and dominant in claiming their real estate, lest they leave their outside backs exposed to numbers in future.
All up, not their best effort but still not a bad player on the park. A rare refrain we need to see more of in the weeks ahead.
Mitchell Pearce had another captain's knock, setting the example once again and doing his State of Origin recall prospects no harm in the process. Likewise, Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer maintained standards, leading from the front and inspiring the rest to follow. In this regard, Herman Ese'ese and James Gavet provided comfort that when Klemmer gets the call-up in a few weeks' time, we shouldn't miss a beat. At least that's the theory. The same can be said for Connor Watson, who turned in a solid defensive display at five-eighth.
Upon reflection, things are looking a sight better going into round 10 than they were into round seven. But it can all come crashing down if they trip up on Sunday in Mudgee, before facing the cream of the competition over the month ahead.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor's team have been flighty of late despite a strong roster, which has perhaps been distracted by the Jack de Belin drama.
Basic errors haven't helped them. If they can tidy that area up, coupled with their experienced forward pack and the touch-footy flair of new five-eighth Jai Field, their fans might find something to cheer about.
Knights by two.
This week's Top 8
1. Most outstanding performance of round nine must go to a team chock full of standout individual efforts. The Storm, first team to crack 60 points this season, showed why they're the best with no less than 12 players posting points in the 11-try romp.
2. So good, I can't leave it there. Storm reserve utility Ryan Papenhuyzen once trained behind James Tedesco at the Tigers, then Billy Slater at the Storm. Proximity to both legend fullbacks should give punters insight as to how this guy became so good. Now I don't want to jinx the young man, but his 32 minutes last week were scintillating. Another touch footballer with the gift of lighting speed, His try-assist from under his posts to set up Josh Addo-Carr's blinding sprint to the line was as good as you'll ever see.
3. Closer to home, Newcastle locals wouldn't forgive me for not recalling our own moment of brilliance as Ponga sidestepped experienced defender Kieran Foran last week. It was no ordinary sidestep. Initially comfortable, Foran was beaten all ends up with a late move reminiscent of the great Brad Fittler and current dynamo Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Mesmerising to watch.
4. Winning is about doing things right, at the right time. In league, big tackles and flash tries might get all the attention but players know it's always been about the little one per centers. Take Ponga and Connor Watson's dogged chase after the Bulldogs' late intercept last week. Who knows, the runner might drop it over 95 metres or a more difficult kick might be forced. And it was. A missed kick that would have been crucial to the outcome had officials properly called a late knock-on by Pearce, and the Dogs afforded another crack. Make your own luck!
5. I mentioned last week the NRL's capacity for missing the target in trying to appease its many masters. The reactive tough-talking, as opposed to considered collaboration, continues to unravel. The adjustment of Scott Bolton's sanction, admissions the Pearce treatment was "overcooked" (ie wrong), and the ham-fisted "no-fault stand down" policy on the run are combined, compelling evidence to query the wisdom and independence of the the powers that be.
6. While I'm at it, in light of the NRL's admission of over-zealous officialdom in the Pearce case, would it not therefore be entirely appropriate an (equally) public apology be issued and a significant portion of the crazy $125,000 fine be refunded post-haste? Unsure? Re-ask the question with your own name inserted.
7. It's generally agreed Magic Round was a tremendous initiative. And though the Lang Park surface was looking a little rough come Sunday afternoon, it did the job. Nonetheless, there was a long injury queue at the physios on Monday morning. NRL operations manager Graham Annesley agreed afterwards that calls for standardised and safer playing surfaces would be taken on board. Given these issues were supposed to have been prioritised nearly 20 years ago, when Annesley was in the same position at the NRL, players shouldn't hold their breath.
8. The pleasure of playing in beautiful Mudgee is tempered knowing the local league side are known as the Mudgee Dragons. Expect Knights fans to be in the minority on Sunday as they do their best on the most picturesque boutique footy ground in NSW.