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Home sweet home: Knights ready for fast start to 2019

Long-suffering Knights fans aching for a change in fortune frantically circled their calendars when the 2019 NRL draw was unveiled last October.

Starting with back-to-back home games against the Sharks (March 15) and Panthers (March 23), Newcastle were scheduled to play four of their first five games at McDonald Jones Stadium.

After a round-three trip to Canberra (March 29), the Knights will be back in familiar territory to host the Dragons (April 7) and Sea Eagles (April 13).

It will give the Knights a fighting chance for a fast start to a season in which they hope to build on the promise they displayed in 2018, when they finished 11th after three straight wooden spoons.

Newcastle co-captain Jamie Buhrer is taking nothing for granted, and is not looking beyond their season-opener against Cronulla.

"I think it's great that we have it, certainly, but to be honest I don't think it's incredibly important having four of those first five at home because as a player, you don't really look that far into it," the former Manly and NSW utility said.

"I didn't know that until you told me, but it's obviously great because we know what kind of support we get at home.

"There's a lot of excitement both within and without at the moment in the Newcastle region. We know playing at home, we grow an extra leg there, so that support will be good but whether we're at home or away, come round one you just want to be ready to go."

Five key matchups of the Knights' 2019 draw

Perhaps Buhrer was aware that the Knights won more games outside the castle walls last year than they did in their own backyard.

Newcastle had a 4-8 record on their own dunghill but went 5-7 on the road so they hardly enjoyed any significant home-field advantage, even though they still attracted average crowds of 18,974 per game. That was second only to the Brisbane Broncos (31,234), and an average increase of more than 3000 fans a game on the 2017 average home-crowd figure of 15,619.

"The support from the fans here in Newcastle since I've been here has been outstanding. Regardless of where we've finished, we've always had top five or even top three in crowd numbers over the course of the year," he said.

"It's not something that we're not used to because the Knights have such valuable supporters. It's good obviously that there's a bit more excitement about the place, but I don't think that's going to change our approach too much.

"We understand the support we get and we appreciate it, but it's not going to affect us too much."

Heading into his third season in Newcastle and 10th in the NRL, Buhrer has covered several positions but is battling former New Zealand Test dummy-half Danny Levi and Dragons recruit Kurt Mann for a position in the 17-man squad for the game against Cronulla.

"In my time being here, we've certainly got ourselves a strong squad," he said.

"It's a fantastic bunch of blokes, first and foremost, but there's also a lot of really good footballers amongst the bunch and I think we've made some really big strides from a physical standpoint and from a football standpoint.

"The best teams have intense competition for spots and we've certainly got that this year in multiple positions, and it's only going to bring out the best in one another, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it shapes out in the trials.

"I've been training mostly at nine there, and Danny's doing a great job so far this pre-season and Kurt is going to be thereabouts.

"I've got my work cut out for me but all I can do is put my best foot forward every day at training and continue to work and improve and hopefully put in a good performance in the trials so that come round one, my hat's well and truly in the ring."