Off-season recruit Hymel Hunt will try to maintain his perfect record at McDonald Jones Stadium when the Knights welcome the Panthers to Newcastle on Saturday.
The 25-year-old centre, who signed a one-year deal with the Knights last November after stints at the Titans, Storm and Rabbitohs, had few opportunities in attack against Cronulla last Friday but his defence on Newcastle's left edge helped secure a first-up 14-8 victory on his new home turf.
Hunt is now three from three in Newcastle, having been a member of winning South Sydney teams in two previous appearances in 2016 and 2017.
"I couldn't believe the sound of the crowd when we initially ran out on the field. I got goose bumps and an extra burst of energy," Hunt told NRL.com.
"I was so excited to see the fans turn out in numbers because the atmosphere was unbelievable. The crowd was loud, and even the Sharks fans turned out in numbers. Without the fans, we wouldn't be here, so we're very grateful to them and can't wait to see them all again on Saturday night."
Despite missing both of Newcastle's pre-season trials against the Dragons and Sharks because of a hamstring injury, Hunt played 80 minutes against Cronulla and ran 15 times for 122 metres.
The Auckland-born speedster got the jump on luckless centre Tautau Moga, who returned from a fourth knee reconstruction in Newcastle's Canterbury Cup team against Newtown last Friday.
Moga will again play Canterbury Cup against Penrith on Saturday, keeping pressure on all of Newcastle's outside backs.
"After the game the physio was asking me if I needed ice on my hammy but I was fine," Hunt said.
"It's 100 per cent now, my body's feeling amazing – the best I've ever felt – so I'm just excited about playing again this weekend."
Though he would have preferred to have had a run under his belt in the trials, Hunt was satisfied he had done enough strength and conditioning work at pre-season training and was comfortable with his combination with left-edge partners Edrick Lee outside him and Kalyn Ponga inside.
"I'd done a lot of fatigue-based training and speed and endurance training, so I was very confident going into the game," he said.
"In the game I had my doubts at times – getting through 80 minutes of NRL footy is very hard because the intensity is hard to maintain if you haven't played any trials – but I got through it quite well, I thought.
"The boys helped me out a bit too. Every time I was a bit tired, 'KP' swapped around with me and gave me a little rest, but it was awesome to get that first win.
"Trials don't really mean much – they're really just to build your combinations and get your match fitness – but we got the win, and now our focus is Penrith this weekend."
Cronulla playmakers Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson directed much of their attack at Newcastle's left edge but Lee shut down Sharks right centre Josh Dugan three times in the first half, then conceded a penalty try in the 72nd minute when he held back winger Sione Katoa.
Match: Knights v Panthers
Round 2 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
- LIVE PASS
"The Sharks have got a star-studded right side, with big Dugan there and Johnson coming around, and Chad Townsend coming around, so they're hard shapes to defend," Hunt said.
"But last week we tried to replicate those shapes and do everything we could to practise defending them and we did well. With Edrick there, he's a big, tall man and he covers two or three men with that wing span he has, so I'm lucky to have him outside me."
Hunt, Lee and Ponga can expect similar attention from Panthers right-edge attackers James Maloney, Dean Whare and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on Saturday, though they were well contained by Parramatta in the Eels' 20-12 victory at Penrith last Sunday.
Penrith's two tries came on the fringes of the ruck through Wayde Egan and James Tamou midway through the second half while Eels centre Michael Jennings was in the sin-bin.
"You can't underestimate any team in the NRL. Every team is good," Hunt said.
"You look at every team list, and there's not one player that doesn't belong there. This will be another hard game so we'll just have to prepare well and play with the same intensity.
"At the moment, we're not looking for flashy tries or anything, we just need to complete and defend well and do the little things right.
"Those other things will come eventually, as long as we get our defence right.
"Games are won on defence. You can have the best attacking side but if you can't defend, you're not going to go anywhere in the NRL, so that's our big focus at the moment – our defence."