Record: 5 wins, 19 losses
Ladder Position: 16th
Player of the Year: Mitchell Barnett
They say ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’, and never has this saying been truer than when reviewing season 2017 for the Newcastle Knights.
Looking at the table Newcastle finished out right last for the third consecutive year there by collecting a ‘treble’ of wooden spoons, 5 wins and 19 losses doesn’t look pretty and there for asks the question ‘why are Knights so upbeat coming out of 2017?’.
A closer look at the Knights season shows they were leading twelve games at halftime and lost six games by a try or less which shows with a bit of luck or some more experience the Knight’s season tally of five wins could have been a lot higher.
Future Looking Bright
As mentioned, the Knights season doesn’t look flash on paper but the gains the club has made on the field in 2017 can’t be measured or reflected on paper. In 2016 Newcastle barely put up a fight in matches but this season there was only the odd match where it seemed the Young Knights were out of their depth.
The biggest gains were made by the youngest players and their transformation from being ‘kids in a man’s game’ to belonging in the NRL was there for all to see. Players such as Brock Lamb, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and the Saifiti twins started the season as virtual ‘unknowns’ but by the end of the year Lamb and Fitzgibbon have formed a formidable combination on the Knight’s right edge, whilst the twins have established themselves as quality middle forwards.
The continued progression of these young players plus the ‘impressive’ recruitment drive Nathan Brown has gone on has Knights fans dreaming of not only avoiding the wooden spoon in 2018 but possibly competing for a Finals Berth.
Wests Group Take Over
Although the take over is not fully completed the announcement in August that the NRL and Wests Group had agreed on the sale of the Newcastle Knights to Wests gave the struggling club a much needed boost and more importantly secured the Knights Future in the Hunter Region.
Ever since the demise of the Nathan Tinkler era the Knights have struggled for results on and off the field as the ‘care taker’ role the NRL played for the Knights made it hard for the club to attract new players and sponsors.
But with the very successful Wests Group taking over the club’s future has never looked brighter, not only will Wests bring financial stability they can attract better Third Party Agreements to help attract new players, an area the club has struggled to compete with in the past.
Wests and the NSW Government will also split the costs to build a Centre of Excellence right next to the Knight stadium which will be the best in the Country, all this bodes well for an exciting future for the Knights and Wests Group.
Hard Lessons Learnt
Starting the season with a modest roster was always going to put Newcastle in danger of a third straight wooden spoon, but losing three of their most senior players before a ball was kicked this season made the task even tougher.
Jarrod Mullen was suspended for violating the anti doping rules whilst Korbin Sims decided he didn’t want to be a Knight anymore and left for Brisbane, the Knights then suffered a third massive blow as new recruit Rory Kostjasyn suffered a freak injury in pre-season training and was forced to retire.
A side already low on experience couldn’t afford such setbacks and although they performed well at the beginning of the year it was no surprise the young Knights struggled for wins. Newcastle learnt some tough lessons throughout the season but three games in particular will standout out in the learning experience.
The Round 16 loss to the Dragons and Round 18 loss to the Dogs will remain in the players memories for long time and serve as a tough lesson on how ‘not to’ close games out. Whilst in Round 17 against the Tigers the Knights found themselves as ‘favourites’ for the first time in well over a year, the Young Knights didn’t handle the pressure and played their worst game of the year.
As the side improves they will have to learn how to play with the expectation that comes with winning, playing as the ‘under dogs’ every week suits the Knights but they will find themselves as ‘favourites’ more often in 2018.
Make or Break for Brown
Nathan Brown made it clear when he took over the Knights he was starting from the ground and building the club up would take time, well two years have gone and the club has suffered through the pains of watching the Building Process take shape but now the club and fans can see the light.
Brown’s position as coach has never been questioned in the last two seasons despite only winning six games, but now he is in the final year of his deal and the Club and it’s fans have expectations that the pain from the last two seasons and the new players Brown has brought in will result in better results in 2018.
Although the Knights owners Wests Group have said they see Brown as a ’10 year coach’ they made it clear they want results and they want to be winning. Granted the club will be ‘hoping for finals’ Brown’s future won’t rely on this result, but if the side find themselves sitting last again half way through season 2018 questions will arise and the drums will be beating.
New Look Knights
The Knights roster will look very different next season with Brown and the Knights making tough calls on many current players whilst also being very aggressive in the player market.
Brown targeted players from ‘successful clubs’ to help create a culture of ‘winning’ for his young players to learn off after playing in a losing environment for the past three seasons.
Brown isn’t done yet with the club still actively looking for another experienced Prop and Centre whilst they still remain interested in James Maloney if the State of Origin 5/8 becomes available.
2018 GAINS AND LOSSES
GAINS: Kalyn Ponga (Cowboys), Connor Watson (Roosters), Aidan Guerra (Roosters), Tautau Moga (Broncos), Herman Ese’ese (Broncos), Slade Griffin ( Storm )* Jacob Lillyman ( Warriors )*
LOSSES: Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs), Rory Kostjasyn (retired), Sam Mataora (retired), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Anthony Tupou (retired), Joe Wardle (Castleford Tigers), Tyler Randell ( Wakefiled ), Josh Starling ( released ), Jaleen Feeney ( released ), Pauli Pauli ( released ), Jack Stockwell ( released )