They were arguably league's best recruiters last year and the Canberra Raiders put in a bid for the gong again after their newcomers all excelled in a 34-28 defeat of Newcastle at Orange on Saturday night.
With former Gold Coast Titan Aidan Sezer pulling the strings, Joey Leilua crushing his old side and English international Elliott Whitehead justifying his raps, the Raiders were clinical in racing to a 34-0 lead after 30 minutes before both teams rested their stars in their only pre-season hit out before round one.
The only setbacks for the Raiders were neck injuries to prop Shannon Boyd and outside back Sisa Waqa, and a shoulder problem for new recruit Adam Clydsdale.
Clydsdale's injury appears to be the most serious, while Boyd and Waqa both walked off unassisted.
"Adam Clydsdale hurt his shoulder, we don't know the extent of it at the moment," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.
"He did something to his neck and a couple did something to their neck, Sisa's the other one, and Lachy Croker got a whack to the head unfortunately. I think [Clydsdale's injury is the worst], but I'll need to talk to our medical people."
Fringe Raiders forward Mitch Barnett was also placed on report for a second-half high shot on Knights newcomer Pauli Pauli.
Canberra laid on the first six tries before both teams rested key players for the second half, allowing Newcastle to lay on 28 unanswered points of their own.
Newcastle made a litany of early errors and the slick Raiders made them pay, racing to a 34-0 lead after just half an hour in hot conditions at Wade Park.
Even without key members of their spine in Blake Austin (shoulder) and fullback Jack Wighton (back), the Raiders played their A-listers in the first half and looked polished, with English hooker Josh Hodgson a standout.
Stuart couldn't have asked for any more from his side in the first half. Knights counterpart Nathan Brown must have wished he was back in the bitter cold of St Helens after a forgettable first game in charge.
The clash was a chance for both teams to unveil new halves recruits in Sezer and Trent Hodkinson. Sezer put in a typically solid organising performance, including throwing the last pass for two tries.
Former Bulldog Hodkinson had little chance to impress in the first half as the rampant Raiders dominated possession, but did put fullback Jaelen Feeney and Lachlan Fitzgibbon over for tries either side of the break in a 60-minute stint.
Brown was pleased with Hodkinson's hit-out before he was rested midway through the second half, praising his control. But he was filthy at the opening display by several of his first-choice players.
Playing against his old team, a slimmed-down Leilua made a statement by throwing the last pass for two Jordan Rapana tries and scoring one himself in the first half, before he sat out the second half.
Whitehead's hole running and footwork caused plenty of damage playing on the right edge, giving Stuart a welcome selection headache given Queensland representative Josh Papalii has made the position his own.
"It's always pleasing when you control the footy and do the little pieces of play correctly. We constructed that quite well in the first half," Stuart said.
"I thought BJ [Leilua] and Elliott combined really well on the right edge."
After Canberra's early onslaught, Newcastle finally got on the board when halfback recruit Hodkinson put fullback Jaelen Feeney over after he was put into space by a Pauli Pauli offload.
The Knights scored 22 unanswered points in the second half but fell just short of pulling off the comeback.
CANBERRA RAIDERS 34 (Jordan Rapana 2, Shannon Boyd, Sisa Waqa, Josh Papalii, Joey Leilua tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) bt NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 28 (Jaelen Feeney, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Akuila Uate, Chanel Mata'utia, Brock Lamb tries; Trent Hodkinson 3, Lamb goals) at Wade Park, Orange on Saturday night. Crowd: 7588.