Newcastle coach Nathan Brown says his club's younger players need to lift their standards now rival teams are arriving with more intensity to face the Knights.
After starting their NRL season with two wins, Brown's men lost their second successive game to drop out of the top eight for the first time this year in a 30-12 loss to St George Illawarra on Sunday.
The Knights have copped the past three wooden spoons, but entered this season with a revived sense of hope following the recruitment of the likes of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga.
But Brown says that and the opening two wins have brought with it a more steely challenge from opposition teams in the past two weeks against the Sydney Roosters and Dragons.
"Watching how the Roosters turned up to play us and the Dragons turned up to play us, the Dragons turned up today with a far better attitude than the way they did last year," Brown said.
"Good sides are coming to play us, they're not coming thinking if they go three-quarter pace or 85 per cent they can beat us.
"And if we're being honest that would have been the case last year, the real good sides if they were at 85 to 90 per cent would've been too much."
Newcastle have still looked a far improved side in their opening month, but there are some concerns.
None of their forwards ran 100 metres on Sunday in Wollongong, dominated by a Dragons pack that gained the ascendancy in the opening 20 minutes and never let go.
Brown has spoken in the past about the need of the club's returning players from recent seasons to step up to the new standards in 2018, and he said that was particularly important given the increased intensity from rivals.
"The guys who have been with us for a few years have got to raise their water level," Brown said.
"They're probably going into a new field now where competing in some small areas of the game for a long period of time is very important.
"Because at the end of the day we need to put ourselves in a position with five minutes to go to win it and then back the talent of Kalyn (Ponga) and Mitchell (Pearce) to get us over the line."