Record (W-L-D): 10-14
Top Pointscorer: Kurt Gidley 86
Top Tryscorer: Akuila Uate 12
To borrow an overused sporting cliche the Knights had an up and down season which would make many Novocastrians wonder what could of been. Starting with the loss of high profile recruit Russell Packer and continuing with the loss of their owner Nathan Tinkler and then super coach Wayne Bennett, the Knights first half of the season was dominated by off-field drama. The first half of the season saw Newcastle only get two wins and they seemed one of the favorites for the wooden spoon. The on field issues of the side seemed to be reflecting all the negative headlines being made off it. Once this was put behind them the Newcastle side were able to put some good football together as well as blooding some good young talent.
Winning eight from their final eleven games the Newcastle side showed they were capable of the football that many expected after going one game shy of the 2013 grand final. Leaving their run too late and with a coach who already had a new team for the next season the Knights didn’t have much to play for but the injection of young blood saw them build a good foundation for next season.
For a season that started so poorly the Knights end the year with a lot of positives. The biggest positive of the this season for the side was the emergence of young talent such as Chanel Mata’utia, Joseph Tapine, Jake Mamo, and Sione Mata’utia. The youngest Mata’utia brother Sione is the crown jewel of this young talent with the 18 year old setting the NRL a light scoring 7 tries in 7 games. The injection of youth as well as a sense of stability after the finalisation of ownership and coaching staff allowed Newcastle to show what they were truly capable of in the second half of the year.
Another positive for the side was the restructuring of the spine which saw captain Kurt Gidley moved to halfback from hooker. Not only did it make greater use of one of Newcastle’s marquee signings who was struggling in his new position but it also helped improve the form of pivot Jarrod Mullen.
Newcastle fans will also be encouraged by the performance of hooker Adam Clydesdale who spent his first full year in first grade. With legend Danny Buderus now in the coaching staff Newcastle seems to have easily found a long term replacement at dummy half. With composed play and high level ball handling skills Clydesdale did not look out of place in the top grade.
2014 was a wasted season for Newcastle beside their off field issues it was also a frustrating year on the field as well. For a majority of the season the team never found its rhythm a lot of this stemmed from their spine. At the start of the season Wayne Bennet decided to experiment on playing Kurt Gidley at hooker to accommodate Tyrone Roberts at halfback who had a break out year in the previous years finals series.
The experiment was a failure and even cost Newcastle a few games. Bennett stuck to the game plan for way too long while a much superior hooker Adam Clydesdale came off the bench.
Another problem in the spine was the poor performance of Darius Boyd who looked like he did not even want to be there. His form improved a little after the Origin period but he never found the form that he possessed in the past. It was later discovered that Boyd would seek help for mental health issues and in hindsight was reflected by his play.
Newcastle’s spine was not the only issue as the overall offence of the team appeared stifled throughout the season. They played with zero creativity and did not seem to have the same variety they had in the previous season since assistant coach Kevin Walters took over the offence at the start of 2014.
The team also suffered from the performance of some of their accomplished veterans with players such as Akuila Uate, James McManus, and Kurt Gidley having some of their worse seasons since entering first grade.
The Future: 2015
The future appears bright for the Newcastle side thanks to the success of their under 20’s side who recently won their first National Youth League (NYC) Minor Premiership and had four players named in the NYC team of the year Jake Mamo, Sione Mata’utia, Joseph Tapine, and Danny Levi.
2014 also saw healthy development from their younger first grade players, Joey Leilua, Dane Gagai, Korbin Sims, and Adam Clydesdale all improved from last season and all seem as possible rep players in the future.
Knights haven’t recruited quantity instead deciding to promote from within their junior ranks but they have recruited quality. The Knights offseason signings are headlined by former Country Origin backrower Tariq Sims joining his brother Korbin to form a strong forward pack with a mixture of youth and experience. Newcastle also added to its depth by signing Carlos Tuiamavave from the New Zealand Warriors who should be a handy back up to the halves and fullback, and also signed Sam Mataora from Canberra mid year who is has something you can’t teach size and already has received raps from the Knights coaching staff. The final addition the Knights made was another mid season signing young front rower James Taylor from the Warriors who brings with him a good reputation as a future star.
While losing Wayne Bennett a year before his contract expired may seem like a blow to the Knights, but considering the roster it could be a blessing. Incoming coach Rick Stone has implemented a youth policy for his side which suites a team with such young potential which is the opposite to Bennett’s use of established veterans in a win now approach.
Next year, the Knights should have the right combination of youth and experience to improve on last year but face the uncertainty of potential as they try and move on from the Wayne Bennett era.