The Goannas could be minus up to 11 players from last year's grand final team as well as new recruits Adrian Davis and Joel Edwards when the reigning Newcastle Rugby League premiers host the Knights in a trial match at Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday (6pm).
However, title-winning mentor Todd Edwards feels his forward pack will provide a strong account of themselves in the pre-season encounter against NRL opponents bolstered by signings such as hooker Billy Gilbert, Wyong's Wyatt Shaw and former Kurri player Jayden Young.
"Our front six are excellent," Cessnock coach Edwards said.
"And our second pack is just as strong as our first pack."
The likes of captain Reed Hugo, man-of-the-match Connor Kirkwood, dummy-half Harrison Spruce, Greek international Robert Tuliatu and Joe Barber all helped Cessnock beat Souths 20-6 in the 2020 decider and are set to line-up this weekend.
Cameron King, Kori Barber, Sam Apthorpe and Blake Andrews rejoin the Goannas group after a year off.
Hamish Wolfgang is unavailable alongside former Knights, Raiders and Tigers player Edwards, who is expected to take the field in Cessnock's following trial against Macquarie on March 6.
Departing forwards include 2018 Group 21 player of the year Guy Thompson, Nick Lawrence (Maitland) and Joe Bromage (not playing).
Harvey Neville has been training with the Knights over summer.
In terms of the backline only former NRL playmaker Liam Foran remains from last year's showdown.
Josh Griffiths will side with the Goannas again in 2021 but may miss the trial.
Brayden Musgrove (Knights), Ngangarra Barker (Burleigh), Seaton Reid (Noosa), Nick Newman (Erina) and Josh Charles (Belmont South) are now elsewhere.
Joe Woodbury (Macquarie) has also left while Harry O'Brien returns after 12 months off.
Patty Andrews, Dylan Edwards and Jordan Schofield are among those to get a chance against the Knights.
"A few of these kids are getting thrown in the deep end a bit," Cessnock coach Edwards said.
"It will be a good experience for them."
Edwards said he "wasn't worried about the scoreline" but wanted to ensure the Goannas were "reasonably competitive".
The Knights are expected to mostly field their NSW Cup squad with some NRL players.
Davis, formerly with the Knights and Panthers, is unavailable for Cessnock on Saturday but Edwards said he's already "been great for the joint" and added plenty of "professionalism".
The 31-year-old halfback played in the 2011 Newcastle RL grand final with Wests.