As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the Newcastle Knights will go in 2019.
After finishing 11th in 2018, Newcastle will be looking to go a step further this season and end their five-year finals drought; with a host of new players to add to an already improving roster, it’s a make-or-break season for the boys from the Hunter.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Tim Glasby (Storm), Jesse Ramien (Sharks), Edrick Lee (Sharks), Mason Lino (Warriors), James Gavet (Warriors), Zac Woolford (Bulldogs), Hymel Hunt (Rabbitohs), David Klemmer (Bulldogs), Kurt Mann (Dragons)
Jack Cogger (Bulldogs), Nick Meaney (Bulldogs), Brock Lamb (Roosters), Jacob Lillyman (retired), Chris Heighington (retired), JJ Collins (Raiders), Luke Yates (London Broncos), Dylan Phythian (released), Pat Mata’utia (released), Chanel Mata’utia (released), Ken Sio (Salford Red Devils), Cory Denniss (Rabbitohs)
Sharks (H), Panthers (H), Raiders (A), Dragons (H), Manly (H)
WHAT TO EXPECT
After finally passing through the rocky seas that had disturbed the Knights’ ship during the post-Wayne Bennett era, Nathan Brown’s side finally showed they could compete with the best, finishing just three places outside of the finals in 2018. Although their ladder position improved, a closer look showed the same issues that had plagued them throughout the wooden spoon years remained; it was only the class of Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce that helped snatch a number of close wins.
Defence is the key area that needs improving in 2019, and Newcastle has moved to rectify this with a host of new recruits and the addition of assistant coach Kristian Woolf (who specialises in defence), tasked with overhauling the club’s structures and attitude; after finishing the season as the worst defensive side, expect to see a much improved defensive unit this year.
That will provide a better platform for star playmakers Ponga and Pearce to build from, especially Ponga who is touted to make the move from fullback to five-eighth permanently in 2019. After exceeding his already lofty expectations in 2018, expect an even bigger year from KP who will benefit from playing behind a much improved forward pack and hopefully playing every game alongside Pearce in the halves after the captain’s 2018 was cut short by injury.
Much like last season, Newcastle were very active in the player market for 2019 and made some of their biggest moves once the season had finished, none bigger than Australian and NSW Origin prop David Klemmer who joined the club after forcing a move from Canterbury. The club identified they had been losing the ‘middle battle’ exchanges for the majority of 2018, so they moved early to sign Tim Glasby from the Storm, who is seen as one of the best middle defenders in the game. Along with Klemmer and former Warriors’ hard man James Gavet, Newcastle have added some much-needed steel to their middle; don’t be surprised to see all three start in round one against the Sharks.
Newcastle have a fair draw this season compared to the last two seasons (where they have faced a higher percentage of top four sides than most of their rivals). In 2019 Newcastle will play twelve matches against last year’s top eight which includes five top four opponents, whilst they will enjoy having twelve games against the bottom eight from last season. The Knights will also look to take advantage of their fixtures during the Origin period where they will play Souths, Melbourne and Brisbane, who will likely be heavily affected by representative duties. The Knights will be looking for a strong start to the year where they will play four home games from their first five.
Top Tryscorer – Edrick Lee
Top Pointscorer – Kalyn Ponga
Club Player of the Year – Mitchell Pearce
WHERE WILL THE NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS FINISH?
After improving to finish 11th in 2018, Newcastle will be aiming to plays finals football this year, and with the additions they’ve made to their roster and the natural improvement of their younger players this should be achievable. Anything less than a finals berth will be seen as a failure whilst a top four finish would be a dream come true for their long-suffering fans. Expect Newcastle to finish sixth after 25 rounds and progress to the second week of the finals before bowing out.