NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Kalyn Ponga of the Knights runs with the ball during the round 20 NRL match between Newcastle Knights and Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on July 14, 2023 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

The Newcastle Knights had what can only be described as an incredible finish to the 2023 NRL season and will now look to repeat the dose as 2024 commences.

At one stage in 2023, there was little doubt the Knights were in contention for a bottom-four spot.

So bad was it that the club were reportedly weighing up their future coaching options, with Adam O'Brien hanging onto his job at the helm of the men from the Hunter by a thread.

The turnaround during the second half of the season had to be seen to be believed, though, as they rocketed to an eventual home elimination final, where they knocked over the Canberra Raiders before falling to the New Zealand Warriors in an Auckland-hosted semi-final the following week.

Whether they can repeat that form and carry it throughout a full season remains to be seen, though, and these could be the questions that ultimately shape the Knights' 2024 campaign.

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1. Can Kalyn Ponga stay fit?

This is the single biggest issue for the Knights heading into the 2024 campaign, although there are certainly others that need a solid answer before Round 1.

There is little coincidence that Ponga struggled for fitness through concussion issues and, as a result, form during the first half of the 2023 campaign. The results during the first half of the season for Newcastle were abysmal.

But then Ponga managed to get himself fit, stay on the field, and put in a man-of-the-match performance after the man-of-the-match performance during that incredible, glorious second half of the year.

The fullback, who has confirmed he will once again put his hand up for the Origin arena this year, is among the most talented players in the game, but it's more than that. He reads the play sensationally and has begun to understand what makes a team like the Knights, in a regional town with a passionate fan base, tick.

The club made the big call to re-sign him long-term on a mega deal during 2022, warding off the threat of the Dolphins, and the fullback needs to continue repaying them for that faith this year.

If Ponga, who took out the 2023 Dally M Medal on the basis of his second half of 2023, continues the form he finished last year with, then the Knights could well become something close to an unstoppable force.

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