Midway through last season, on a forgettable Saturday night, the angular figure of Wayne Bennett stood in the corner of the warm-up area beneath Hunter Stadium long after the humiliation was inflicted.
The Knights had lost 32-16 to Canberra, which left them two points off the bottom of the ladder and riding very low on a five-match losing streak.
"I don't know whether we're going backwards or forwards right now," Bennett said at the post-match media conference.
"We're not going anywhere to be honest with you. There's not much to take out of [these losses] except what we all know."
Oh, don't worry, Supercoach - we all knew. The Knights faithful knew. For the past 25 years, few could really recall the mob booing their own side.
They had seen the castle rebuilt under billionaire owner Nathan Tinkler, seen Bennett wooed, seen new players signed and instant success seemingly assured.
But when the players left the field that evening, the fans felt a sickness had infected their club and they let the players know.
Hours later, Bennett was chatting with ABC Radio broadcaster Craig Hamilton, who was born in the Upper Hunter town of Singleton and had seen every incarnation of the Knights since its inception in 1988.
Hamilton dispassionately asked Bennett how he intended to turn this around.
"Been there before, seen this before, nothing new to me," Bennett said calmly. "I know we'll come through this because I know what works."
Then Bennett said something that surprised, given the abundant success he's experienced in his 37 years of coaching.
"I'm loving it," he continued. "It's good for me. To be struggling like this is good for us."
The final pieces of the intricate mosaic that is the Newcastle Knights are slotting into place, starting to reveal the bigger picture.
It's like the very last scene in The Usual Suspects, when you finally learn who Keyser Soze really is.
They went into the final round needing to beat the Eels to ensure their place in the finals series, and while that sounds like child's play against a broken-hearted team, it was a delicate position that they shouldn't have been in.
In the first week of the finals, they punished last year's grand finalists Bulldogs 22-6. Last Saturday, they hijacked defending premiers the Storm 18-16 in Melbourne, where they haven't won in for nine years, and at AAMI Park, where they have never left as victors.
"He's taking everything he's learnt in the last 25 years and putting it into us," Danny Buderus said of Bennett afterwards.
Tonight, the 63-year-old comes up against the Roosters who have been - rightly or wrongly - sucked into the doping scandal and up against a first-year coach in charge of the match of his life.
It reeks of an upset. And they say Bennett's past his prime, like most of his players?
The story that bears repeating came before Bennett's first of four seasons as Knights coach.
At a business luncheon, he was asked how many premierships he expected to win in his time at the club.
"He'll win four," bellowed Tinkler, sitting at a table near the stage.
It was said in jest but mirrored the expectations of not just the Knights supporter base but that of the wider game.
When Bennett arrived at the Dragons, the mandate given could not have been clearer: "Win us something".
The Knights weren't as desperate but they'd grown tired of the mediocrity.
They had wandered around aimlessly since Andrew Johns was forced into retirement with a neck injury in 2007, when coach Brian Smith drove beloved players like hooker Danny Buderus out and overseas, and a crippled financial position saw mining magnate Tinkler take ownership.
Ever the master manipulator, Bennett did not want to speak for this story. But you can be assured his masterplan for the Knights has never had the same timeframe as the Dragons, who three seasons ago tackled their way to the Red V's first premiership since 1979.
"There was a huge amount of expectation," says Knights chief executive and premiership-winning centre Matt Gidley. "Nathan had just taken over the club. We've won premierships and produced an Immortal [Johns] but Nathan recruiting Wayne Bennett is right up there.
"Getting the greatest coach in the country to Newcastle was beyond our wildest dreams. That whole wave of expectation was there, and I can understand why.
"This team was ready to go and these people wanted to relive the glory days. Inside, we understood that.
"But this isn't the English Premier League, where you can take over Manchester City and spend hundreds of millions of pounds and build a team overnight."
Having finished 12th last year, and tiptoeing a top-eight precipice for much of this one, questions have emerged about Bennett and his recruitment decisions like he's a rookie finding out what works for the first time.
Only in recent matches are the likes of discards Dane Gagai and Joseph "BJ" Leilua started to electrify a backline that has an average of 24.
It's his ageing forward pack, with the likes of Buderus (aged 35), Willie Mason (33), Jeremy Smith (33), David Fa'alogo (33) and Matt Hilder (31) that prompted the easiest headline at a sports editor's disposal: "DAD'S ARMY".
Those who witnessed the ferocity of the pack's defence against Melbourne now realise the value of experience. Smith and Beau Scott have been lethal.
While Bennett claims his side's narrow loss to the Storm this year was a turning point, some say he's known since South Sydney mauled his side in July last year that he needed brutality in his pack and only now has it arrived.
"They're men," Bennett said of Smith and Scott on Channel 9 on the eve of the finals.
"They play the game as men. They don't take a lot of motivating, they don't take a lot of maintenance. They have a rub-off effect on everyone else. They make other players play better."
Only now is Bennett's side playing with a soul. It's why he threw a lifeline to Mason in April last year.
In Mason, he saw Wendell Sailor; gregarious, gifted, a little bit misunderstood.
Bennett knew Mason would do the job required of him, whether it was tearing in on the field or relaxing the other players caught up in the coach's aura, for no other reason than the fact Mason had nowhere else to turn.
When he was at the Roosters, Mason would be infuriated if you so much as suggested let alone published that he was a bad influence on younger players and was undermining coach Brad Fittler - even if it was openly known at the Roosters that he was.
In his interview with Johns for Nine ahead of the Storm semi-final, Mason spoke with a clarity few have heard.
"At other clubs, I've been guilty of saying one thing and doing another," he said. "I'm the first to admit that. Now I am living and breathing it."
Wayne Bennett: seven-time premiership winner; the man who broke the most famous grand final jinx in history with the Dragons; and the coach who tamed Willie Mason.
Even as late yesterday afternoon, the mail still ran strong about Bennett coaching North Queensland next season.
Gidley scoffed at the rumours when Fairfax Media raised the issue this week but the next day Bennett refused to bury them.
It was a textbook manipulation of the media he plays with like an errant puppy, if he's in the mood.
Says former Knights coach Michael Hagan, who is also on the club's advisory board: "That's another skill that he's got that the other, younger coaches haven't gone through. For big games, there's a media plan, and there's a game plan. You need to play both of them smartly. Wayne's done it more often than most."
Bennett's future at the Knights is rusted on to Tinker's volatile financial situation and many are already forecasting what the club will look like without him.
They believe he'll leave the same smoking wreck at Newcastle that he left at the Dragons.
It is something Dragons chief executive Peter Doust refuted in an interview earlier this season. "There is no bad will with Wayne and the Dragons," he said.
Those within the Knights tell you it would be a shame if Bennett left so soon because only now is he finding his feet at a unique club, where an entire region feels like a legitimate stakeholder.
In a speech at last year's end-of-season presentation, Bennett admitted on stage that he hadn't understood that. That he, along with the coaching staff he brought in, needed to work harder with the club's long-time employees.
"It's not just a footy club," says Gidley. "It represents an entire region. We take that very seriously.
"That's one of the reason why Nathan was able to recruit Wayne, because he felt Wayne would buy into that. Which is really important to us."
Gidley often sounds like he's drinking the Kool-Aid, such is his devotion to Tinker, but he's right.
On that score, the Newcastle faithful seem OK.
Ask Hamilton how many angry talkback listeners phoned in the last 18 months, demanding the master coach be sacked, he says this: "I can't recall a single call."
Bennett knew that he would get to this point because he knows what works.