WAYNE Bennett reckons the club was a basket case when he arrived.
Nathan Brown said it was in such poor shape he immediately told his wife "we'll definitely run last for the first two years".
As for former Group Seven star Adam O'Brien?
He liked a lot of what he saw of the Newcastle Knights last season, and he likes it even more after his first official day in the hot seat.
The Knights kicked off pre-season training on Wednesday with a series of gruelling fitness tests, as O'Brien, a former Batemans Bay Tiger, cast a watchful eye over the men he has been hired to coach for at least the next three seasons.
And while many fans are still wallowing in doom and gloom after Newcastle's spectacular nosedive in 2019, O'Brien insists there is plenty to be positive about.
"It wasn't a disastrous season for them," the former Sydney Roosters and Melbourne assistant coach said.
"They made a lot of improvements. I think they were eighth for attack, which improved from 14th the year before, so their attack was certainly good.
"And there were some periods of the season when they defended really well. It just wasn't consistent enough.
"There were some scores that really blew the stats out of the water and hurt at the end of the year.
"But I knew that it was the right club for me, and I was the right fit for the club.
"So the end of the year didn't turn me off, it made me want to get up here even quicker."
O'Brien said he would eventually get around to having some "uncomfortable conversations" with his players about how Newcastle managed to plummet from fifth mid-season to ultimately finish 11th, after losing nine of their last 12 games.
That discussion will no doubt involve a post-mortem of late-season drubbings by Wests Tigers (46-4) and Penrith (54-10) that rank among the most embarrassing performances in Newcastle's history.
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But O'Brien also vividly remembers the Knights' 38-12 demolition of the Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium in round 11.
"I'd been on the receiving end of the other side of it, earlier in the year," he said.
"I knew what this group was capable of."
The challenge will be extracting such performances on a regular basis.
Having worked alongside master coaches Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson during premiership-winning campaigns, O'Brien has spent his entire professional career in state-of-the-art environments where success is expected.
Now he finds himself at the helm of the club who, on a win-loss basis, have been the NRL's worst-performed club over the past decade, collecting three straight wooden spoons between 2015 and 2017 and spending the past six season as finals spectators.
"I understand there are some guys there that have only won a handful of games, and they've played upwards of 60, 70 first-grade games," he said.
"I understand that. But it is what it is.
"But ultimately they all seem very hungry to get that success. They want to be a part of it."