Central Newcastle halfback Brad Murray admits it has been "tough", but believes the Butcher Boys aren't far away from turning the corner.
Preliminary finalists the last two years, Central lost at least half-a-dozen regular first graders ahead of the 2019 season and sit in a three-way share of last with just two wins from their opening seven matches.
However, with the Newcastle Rugby League competition ladder so close, only four points separate second to eighth, the Butcher Boys could find themselves inside the top five if they overcome Macquarie at St John Oval on Saturday.
"It's been tough, but we've probably been more competitive than what it looks," Murray, who sits equal third on the player of the year standings, said.
"We've won two out of seven but it could have quite easily been four our of seven.
"A lot of that comes down to experience and we have a lot of young guys who are learning how to play first grade. The effort has been there and we're trying hard, hopefully the results aren't too far away."
Murray, and new halves partner Ethan Cooke remain at the Charlestown-based club from previous campaigns while experienced campaigners Callan Richardson, Simon Williams (not playing), Steve Gordon (Wellington), Terence Seu Seu (Central Coast) and Shane Gray (Gold Coast) aren't wearing blue and white.
Macquarie are coming off three straight defeats.
The visiting Goannas welcome back Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano and Dan Metcalfe into the top grade for Josh Charles (hand) and Marvin Filipo (hamstring).
Sunday sees competition leaders Western Suburbs host Maitland at Harker Oval while defending champions South Newcastle travel to meet Lakes at Cahill Oval.