The 2019 NRL draw is officially out, which means it's time to start planning for the Winter that is to come. To get every Knights Member and fan started, here's 10 games you won't want to miss in 2019.
1. RUGBY LEAGUE RETURNS TO MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, KNIGHTS V SHARKS – FRIDAY 15 MARCH, 6PM KICKOFF
After a long, painstaking wait for the season to get underway, the Knights round one clash against Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium is certain to be a can't miss event.
The Knights come off a 2018 campaign that saw them finish with record Membership and the second highest average attendance in the game – and they'll be determined to go even better once the new season rolls around.
The Sharks clash will offer up club debuts for recruits Tim Glasby, Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee and Mason Lino, with Lee and Ramien in line to go up against their old club.
It also presents an opportunity for the Knights to erase memories of a disappointing two-loss season against the Sharks in 2018.
Lee and Ramien both crossed for Cronulla in their round 12 fixture at McDonald Jones Stadium, with Ramien bagging a double in a 48-10 win over a Knights missing Mitchell Pearce due to injury. The return clash at Shark Park was not much better, with Lee scoring twice for the finals-bound Sharks in a 38-12 win.
But a new year means new hope for the Knights, and with this clash being the focus of a long off-season, the Knights will be banking on another big Newcastle crowd – with 2018's round one tally of 23,516 against Manly firmly in their sights.
2. THE MALCOLM REILLY TROPHY, KNIGHTS V SEA EAGLES – ROUND 5, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SATURDAY 13 APRIL, 5.30PM
It's the oldest rivalry the Knights have and it's a game that both sides never fail to get up for.
The Newcastle-Manly rivalry got its beginnings with the legendary clashes between Paul 'The Chief' Harragon and Mark 'Spud' Carrol in the mid-1990's. It stepped up a notch with the Knights' 1997 Grand Final defeat of the Sea Eagles and has been a fixture on the calendar ever since.
In 2018, the two old foes faced off at McDonald Jones Stadium in round one, an 88th minute field goal from Mitchell Pearce sealing a 19-18 win in front of that 23,516-strong Newcastle crowd. Seven weeks later they repeated the dose, winning 18-12 at Brookvale in the Knights first match post Pearce's pectoral injury.
You can expect the Sea Eagles to have some of their old swagger back in 2018 with the return of Des Hasler as head coach for the first time since their 2011 Premiership win. And they'll need it if they're to steal the Malcolm Reilly Trophy from the Knights grasp, the trophy being contested in the first clash between the two sides each season.
3. NRL MAGIC ROUND, KNIGHTS V BULLDOGS – ROUND 9, SUNCORP STADIUM, SATURDAY 11 MAY, 3PM
In a first for the National Rugby League, the entire competition heads to Brisbane in round 9 of the 2018 season for the inaugural Magic Round.
With two matches scheduled for Friday night, three for Saturday and three for Sunday, all at Suncorp Stadium, Magic Round will be the focus of the Rugby League world, drawing fans from all over Australia and New Zealand.
The Knights first taste of Magic Round sees them face off against the Canterbury Bulldogs, a side they faced only once in 2018. Unfortunately for Knights fans, the Bulldogs produced perhaps their most complete performance of the season to take the win 36-16 in a game which also resulted in injuries to Slade Griffin (knee) and Kalyn Ponga (hamstring).
4. THE ALEX MCKINNON CUP, KNIGHTS V DRAGONS – ROUND 4, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SUNDAY 7 APRIL, 6.10PM
The Alex McKinnon Cup was launched in 2015 and is contested in the first clash between the Knights and the St. George-Illawarra Dragons each season.
Indeed, the Knights have never lifted the cup in its four-year history – something they will be desperate to rectify in 2019.
The Dragons earned the cup once again in a 30-12 win at Wollongong's WIN Stadium on April Fools Day, 2018. They backed up that win with a 24-14 win over the Knights on Old Boys Day at McDonald Jones Stadium – a game the Knights led 10-2 at half time.
5. OLD BOYS DAY, KNIGHTS V TITANS – ROUND 24, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SATURDAY 31 AUGUST, 3PM
Speaking of the best day of the year, Old Boys Day comes a week early in 2019 with the Knights drawn to play the Gold Coast Titans at McDonald Jones in round 24, ahead of a final round road trip to Penrith the following week.
One of the most enduring traditions in Rugby League, Old Boys Day is always a landmark occasion in the Knights season, seeing Club legends from 1988 to 2018 gather to salute the 2019 squad as it goes to work.
New Knights Old Boys Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman will be the most recent inductees into the fold this year after calling time on their careers on the corresponding day last season.
6. THE ALLAN MCMAHON SHIELD, KNIGHTS V WESTS TIGERS – ROUND 19, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, FRIDAY 26 JULY, 6PM
The Allan McMahon Shield is up for grabs every time we play the Wests Tigers and is currently in the Tigers' possession, courtesy of a 25-16 win over the Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium in round 21 of last season.
However the Knights and Tigers shared the spoils during 2018 – who could forget the pleasure and pain of the Knights round 7 win at Scully Park, Tamworth, a 22-20 result memorable for Shaun Kenny-Dowall's 78th minute match winner and Mitchell Pearce's 12 week pectoral injury.
2019's first clash between the two sides – they'll meet again at Campbelltown in round 23 – represents the start of what appears a relatively favourable run home for the Knights, with the Tigers the first of a six week run against teams that finished in the bottom eight in 2018.
7. ANZAC ROUND, KNIGHTS V EELS – ROUND 7, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SUNDAY 28 APRIL, 4.05PM KICKOFF
Knights spearhead Kalyn Ponga will be out to achieve a unique hat-trick when Newcastle plays host to the Parramatta Eels this Anzac Round.
Ponga, who finished second to Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in this year's Dally M Medal count, is a two-time Anzac medal winner, awarded to the man of the match in each game during Anzac Round. In 2017, he claimed the medal as a North Queensland Cowboy when playing against the Knights, while of course his 2018 win came in Knights colours away to Manly.
The Knights return home to Newcastle this Anzac Round, against the Eels, who finished with the 2018 wooden spoon. The clash will be the Knights fifth at home in the first seven weeks of the season.
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8. KNIGHTS V ROOSTERS, ROUND 11, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, FRIDAY 24 MAY, 7.50PM
The Knights have seen an influx of former Roosters in recent years, starting with Kiwi Test winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall and continuing with the arrivals of Aidan Guerra, Connor Watson and Mitchell Pearce during the 2017-18 off season.
The flavour continues in 2018 with the appointment of Brian Canavan as Knights Director of Football, the ultra-experienced administrator having previously held the role of Roosters Chief Executive and most recently the NRL Director of Football.
The Roosters, of course, come into 2019 as reigning Premiers thanks to the comprehensive job they did on the Melbourne Storm in the 2018 Grand Final. And with no shortage of experience remaining in their ranks, they'll fancy their chances of continuing a run of wins over the Knights – which included victories home and away in 2018.
9. KNIGHTS V BRONCOS – ROUND 15, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SATURDAY 29 JUNE, 5.30PM
The only team in the game with a better 2018 home crowd average than the Knights, the Broncos will travel to Newcastle coming off a shock last start 15-10 head to head loss, back in round 5 of last season.
That match is possibly best remembered not for what happened on the field, but off it, with Knights head coach Nathan Brown putting a none-too-subtle shot over the bows of Broncos coach Wayne Bennett in the post-match press conference.
The question remains as to if Bennett will still be at the head of the Broncos team when this match rolls around, with the 7-time Premiership winner weighing up his coaching future having been told his services will not be required at Red Hill beyond the 2019 season.
This will be the only encounter between the two sides during the regular season – with the Knights other one match opponents being Melbourne Storm, Canberra Raisers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Cronulla Sharks and North Queensland Cowboys.
10. KNIGHTS V PANTHERS – ROUND 2, MCDONALD JONES STADIUM, SATURDAY 23 MARCH, 5.30PM
The Knights kick off their season with five home games in seven weeks, facing off against three top eight finishing sides at McDonald Jones Stadium during that time.
The second match of the season will be looked upon favourably by Coach Nathan Brown and his team, coming up against a Penrith Panthers side that the Knights shocked 20-12 in their last encounter back in August.
On that day, the Knights travelled to the foot of the mountains with Kalyn Ponga lining up at five eighth, a position in which he shone. However it was the Knights effort in defence that most pleased coach Brown, who called it the most complete 80 minute performance of the season.
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How hard is the Knights draw?
The Knights couldn't have hoped for a more even-handed 2019 draw, facing off against 12 top eight sides from 2018 and 12 from the bottom eight.
The flow of the season is vitally important from a football perspective, with a block of five home games in the first seven weeks of the season.
Three of these five are against top eight opposition in the Sharks (round 1), Panthers (round 2) and the Dragons (round 4), while Manly (round 5) finished 15th last season and Parramatta (round 7) last.
From that point onwards the picture gets tougher for the Knights, and it is through the middle third of the season where their mettle will be well and truly tested.
A tough block of road games in rounds eight through 10 sees the Knights travel to Auckland to play the Warriors, Brisbane to take on the Bulldogs in Magic Round, and Mudgee to play the Dragons on consecutive weekends.
They then return home to McDonald Jones Stadium to take on 2018 Premiers the Sydney Roosters in round 11, and following a round 12 bye, they face back to back road trips against the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Melbourne Storm.
After that it's three straight at home against the Broncos (R15), Warriors (R16) and Bulldogs (R17), a trip to the SCG to face off against the Roosters once again.
The run into the finals sees the Knights play a run of six games against opposition that finished outside the 2018 top eight, which culminates on Old Boys Day against the Gold Coast in round 24.