Newcastle Knights Stats
2013 Record: 12 wins from 24 premiership games (7th placed)
5-year record: 57 wins from 120 premiership games (47% win record)
Arrivals: Clint Newton, Michael Dobson
Departures: utia, Siuatonga Likiliki, Will Smith, Craig Gower
Coach: Wayne Bennett
Fixtures to start and end 2014
First five fixtures: Panthers (A), Raiders (H), Storm (A), Sharks (H), Cowboys (A)
Final five fixtures: Storm (H), Warriors (H), Broncos (A), Eels (H), Dragons (H)
The Newcastle Knights enter 2014 looking to build on an impressive end to 2013 where they fell agonisingly short of their first Grand Final appearance since 2001. After finishing the regular season down in 7th position, Wayne Bennett’s men stormed through the finals, accounting for the high-flying Bulldogs in week on before upsetting the Storm in week two. This appeared to be their Grand Final as they were disappointing a week later in going down 40-14 to the Roosters.
The year has started in the worst possible way with star Jarrod Mullen tearing his hamstring at the Auckland Nines and ruled out for four months. Adding to their problems was the deregistration of new recruit Russell Packer after receiving a jail term following a vicious assault during the off-season. They have a very experienced squad with Darius Boyd, James MacManus, Kurt Gidley, Beau Scott, Willie Mason, Chris Houston, Timana Tahu, Adam Cuthbertson, David Fa’alogo, Joey Leilua and Anthony Quinn all very experienced first grade players. This can work in their favour if the majority stay fit, but if injuries occur these players may take longer to recover and it’s a long season.
I like their back line which features the strike-power of Boyd at fullback, crowd pleaser Akuila Uate on one wing and reliable Scotsman James McManus on the other. A centre pairing of Joey Leilua and Dane Gagai is also a nice pairing for the Knights. I’m a little concerned about their halves following Mullen’s injury. Michael Dobson hasn’t played in the NRL for a few years so is a bit of an unknown prospect and Tyrone Roberts is still inexperienced. At hooker Gidley often tries to do too much and he hasn’t really had a good season in a number of years.
They have a tough forward pack that will make the opposition sore every week. Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith is as tough a second row pairing as you will find and Willie Mason provides plenty of experience up front, along with Kade Snowden. They have a solid team and surprised everyone during the 2013 finals but they only scraped into the finals in 7th place which suggests they are not quite a powerhouse team yet and they could easily drop right off in 2014. They can leak points at times which the best teams don’t do, something that needs to be addressed to lift them into a top four team. They enjoy tremendous home ground support but could only manage seven wins from 12 matches at Hunter Stadium in 2013. They need to return to the days of old when they were nearly impossible to beat in Newcastle and they have the squad to do it, and they have the best coach in the NRL to help them.
They also need to improve on the road, after losing six of their first seven away matches in 2013. They have experience in their ranks and these players need to lead the way each and every week for the Knights to take another step forward in 2014.