The Newcastle Knights have picked up where they left off at the end of the 2023 NRL season, crunching the Cronulla Sharks in their opening trial match by 44 points to 18.

In what was a performance where the Sharks will be concerned by a lack of fundemental skills on a scorching hot day in Newcastle, it was Newcastle players with plenty to prove who stole the spotlight in the big win.

Adam O'Brien's side, missing a handful of their likely starters in Round 1, but with enough playing to get a picture of their off-season, looked a solid outfit against an undermanned Sharks' team as they begin a season looking to back up the second half of 2023 which saw them surge from the bottom four to the top six.

Here are the big talking points from the game.

Newcastle's halves battle no closer to being solved

The Knights had all three halves spend time on the field during the thumping of the Sharks on Saturday, and all three had nice moments, without doing a heap wrong.

Newcastle come into the new campaign without Adam Clune, but with a headache following the arrival of Jack Cogger on a long-term deal after he excelled as the back-up option at premiers the Penrith Panthers in 2023.

But mark the words - Cogger has not gone back to the Hunter to serve as a back-up option. Whether wearing the six or seven, he wants to be in the starting side.

He probably outplayed ex-Brisbane Bronco Tyson Gamble on Saturday, with the consensus being that one of them will partner Jackson Hastings in the halves come Round 1 when the Knights commence their season against the Canberra Raiders.

Some suggestions have had Hastings playing at lock come Round 1, but Adam Elliott has that role cemented. Hastings missed a number of the Knights' best performances last year, but without the controlling influence of Adam Clune at the club this year, he is the walk-up starter for the number seven jumper.

While Cogger was the better of the two potential partners for Hastings (who was the best on ground in the first half), there wasn't enough between them to land a knockout blow, and all three will probably play again next weekend in Fiji against the Storm.

There is also the small matter of Will Pryce, who has arrived from England. He looked solid and, if he impresses at NSW Cup level, could bang down the door for the number six jersey late into the season.

What role will Kade Dykes play in 2024?

Kade Dykes comes into the 2024 campaign desperate to prove himself as an NRL level player after missing 2023 in its entirety thanks to an ACL injury sustained on the eve of the season.

The Sharks are yet to clarify if they have found a role at the top level for Dykes though. Able to play fullback and five-eighth, it appears on the surface that he is stuck behind William Kennedy and Braydon Trindall.

Trindall of course did his selection hopes no harm by playing an excellent game for the Indigenous All Stars alongside Cronulla halfback Nicho Hynes on Friday night.

Dykes ran out at fullback for the Sharks on Saturday in Gosford though, putting on some nice touches. In what was effectively his return to competitive rugby league, he was strong and the signs are he will only get better.

There is little to no doubt coach Craig Fitzgibbon needs to begin filtering youngsters into first-grade this year if the Sharks hope to hold any of them. Whether that is Kayal Iro, Dykes, Sam Stonestreet or a handful of forwards, the time has come.

Has Thomas Jenkins done enough to win Dominic Young's spot?

Dominic Young's off-season shift to the Sydney Roosters has left a large hole to fill on the wing for the Knights, with Adam O'Brien having options available.

While Greg Marzhew will continue to line up on one wing, it is Thomas Jenkins who has become the inside runner for the other spot on the edge in 2024 following his off-season shift from the Penrith Panthers.

Stuck in reserve grade for the most part in the three-time premiership-winning outfit at the foot of the mountains, Jenkins is predominantly a centre, but he has spent more and more time at wing in recent years.

Named to play there in the first trial on Saturday against the Sharks, he had a solid performance. Not fantastic. Not electric. But solid.

He didn't do a whole lot wrong in his time on the park, and came away from the game proving he knows how to defend out wide, while also adding a try assist, a couple of line break assists and three tackle busts.

He has a long way to go to prove he is the leading option, but he is certainly well ahead of the likes of Enari Tuala, and should be there in Round 1, although will likely get another opportunity to prove himself next week in Fiji.

How much of a concern is Cronulla's discipline?

Results may not matter during the pre-season unless you have a team gunning for the $100,000 cash prize that comes with winning the challenge element of the trial matches, but other factors certainly do.

Coaches want to see effort in defence, the structures they spent the off-season working on coming to light, and more importantly, discipline, both with and without the ball.

In Cronulla's case, that was non-existent on Saturday afternoon.

The men from the Shire completed at just 66 per cent for a total of 24 out of 36 sets, all up giving away the football 13 times, while they also missed a ridiculous 46 tackles and had a team tackle efficiency of under 85 per cent.

It might have been hot, and they might have had the relatively more inexperienced teams, but those factors are attitude issues across the squad.

It's not a concern yet, but it will be if a similar trend repeats next week when Cronulla with the Canterbury Bulldogs at Belmore on Friday evening.

Knights young gun waiting in the wings for Ponga problems

It seems to be an ongoing "what if" question at the Knights. What if Kalyn Ponga gets injured? What if he has more issues with concussion?

In previous years, it has been such a blow to the Knights that they have simply struggled in Ponga's absence. His excellent form during the second half of the 2023 season that ultimately coincided with Newcastle's meteoric rise up the ladder was proof enough of the influence he has over this side.

But coming into 2024, Newcastle have two more options at the back, with David Armstrong handed a Top 30 deal, and Fletcher Sharpe continuing to improve as he joins the development squad.

Sharpe was excellent on Saturday, making nine tackle busts and running for 120 metres as he put his hand up to be Ponga's second in command.

The youngster was matched by Armstrong though who had a try assist, made six tackle busts and made the most of his minutes on the park.

The duo are both relative unknowns when it comes to NRL level, and granted, it was against an undermanned Sharks' side, but positive signs certainly exist.