Last season placing: 16th position
On a tense Saturday afternoon in the final round of last season’s competition, Newcastle were handed the wooden spoon with an away defeat at Penrith.
Their poor season was the catalyst for change at the Hunter club. The sacking of coach Rick Stone gave club legend Danny Buderus the gig temporarily late in the season. Kurt Gidley, Beau Scott and Tyrone Roberts departed as they headed for a new challenge. Joseph Tapine’s exit from the club late last week shouldn’t affect the cohesion of the team as he was left out of the club’s only trial at Orange against the Raiders.
Nathan Brown returns to coaching the NRL after plying his trade with Huddersfield, then successfully at St Helens. Brown already impressed with the talent coming through the club and making strong indications that Jaelen Feeney will play round 1 after being part of the club’s winning 2015 NSW Cup team.
Trent Hodkinson is the star buy for the club following the exit of Roberts in a somewhat quiet trade period for the Knights.
“Fast finishing” was the phrase to describe Newcastle’s 28-34 loss against the Raiders after trailing 6-34 at the break. Hopefully the defence lifts otherwise it could be a long season for the blue and red.
Trent Hodkinson: Hodkinson is a hard-working quality player, something the Knights desperately need if they are to be competitive. His partnership with a fit Jarrod Mullen could provide success against some of the more fancied sides in 2016. His direction and play making will give the Knights a better chance in attack, providing better ball to Dane Gagai and Jake Mamo.
Tariq Sims: this is a big year for Tariq Sims. Injury and suspension has been a problem for the talented forward. With the honour of becoming co-captain at the Knights in 2016, this could represent a much more responsible and mature Sims on the paddock. Hopefully this kick-starts a return to career best form and puts him in the mix for representative selection.
Jeremy Smith: With the likelihood of rookie players being given a chance under new coach Nathan Brown, the experience and guidance of Jeremy Smith becomes most important to the club. The soon to be thirty-six year old is in the final year of his contract at the Knights. This could benefit a young forward pack that includes Jack Stockwell, Danny Levi and Korbin Sims.
Likely Round 1 line-up
Jaelen Feeney, Nathan Ross, Jake Mamo, Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Trent Hodkinson, Kade Snowden, Danny Levi, Jack Stockwell, Robbie Rochow, Korbin Sims, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Tyler Randall, Mickey Paea, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Pauli Pauli
Unavailable: Tariq Sims (suspended), Sione Mata’utia
Story of 2016:
Talent Jaelen Feeney shines: after Kurt Gidley owned fullback for so long at the Knights it’s fitting that a fellow local junior in Jaelen Feeney takes centre stage and becomes the next best thing to come out of the Hunter. His influence on the Knights NSW Cup premiership winning side should allow Feeney to easy transition into first grade. A shining light in what could be a tough year for the Knights.
Ladder: Bottom 8
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Dane Gagai
Predicted Top Pointscorer: Trent Hodkinson
Predicted Player of the Year: Tariq Sims