Season 2020 brought plenty of ups and downs for the Newcastle Knights: a challenging season both on and off the field tested the resolve of a club that had been found lacking in this area in recent years.
2020 Club Record
Competition Points: 23
2020 Player Achievements
Most Tries: Enari Tuala (11)
Most Points: Kalyn Ponga (46)
Danny Buderus Medal winner: Ponga
Newcastle entered 2020 on the back of a very disappointing end to the previous season, where a late season implosion ended coach Nathan Brown’s tenure at the club; with new coach Adam O’Brien taking the reins, it marked the start of a new era at the Knights.
After watching on from afar as Newcastle meekly succumbed to another year of no finals football, O’Brien put his new team through a tough preseason where his main objective was to ‘make the boys get comfortable with being uncomfortable’. The former Storm and Roosters assistant had identified the club’s lack of resolve, especially around defence, and quickly went about addressing this issue.
In the opening two rounds the Knights’ hard work seemed to be paying dividends, as they ran out to a 2-0 start to the season, before COVID-19 struck and put the competition on hold. Once the competition restarted, the Knights again showed they had made great strides under O’Brien: they backed up a gutsy draw against the Panthers with the clubs’ best performance of the season, belting the unbeaten Raiders 34-18.
Unfortunately for the Knights, the opening four rounds of the season was ultimately their best period of the year, as they stumbled their way through the rest of the season, winning only half of their final 16 regular fixtures before losing the elimination final to the Rabbitohs. This included poor performances at home to the bottom-of-the-table Bulldogs, being flogged at the SCG by the Roosters in Round 18, and suffering a humiliating hammering against the Titans in the last round, which cost them a home final.
Season 2020 was always going to be tough: due to COVID-19, they only played seven games at home; along with a heavy injury toll, the extra travel the side had to deal with took its toll. Injuries to key players throughout the season constantly forced O’Brien to reshuffle his lineup: the Knights suffered season-ending injuries to no less than four spine players, including three hookers, whilst key playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga played the second half of the season with taxing injuries.
Making the finals for the first time since 2013 was a great achievement for the club, although with the roster they’ve put together greater things are expected. Also, the season finished on a sour note: a 46-20 drubbing against Souths was hardly fitting of a finals team. There were some bright sparks for the year, as boom centre Bradman Best announced himself to the competition with a barnstorming season, whilst new recruit Enari Tuala ended the season as the club’s leading try scorer.
On a sad note, they also farewelled some key members of the squad as age, injury, salary cap pressure and performances forced the club to make some tough calls. Whilst Aiden Guerra decided to call time on his long, successful career, Tim Glasby was forced to retire after round seven due to lingering effects from concussions.
Whilst the club were ecstatic to announce the signing of representative forward Tyson Frizzell, it came at a cost as both Hermen Ese’ese and Sione Mata’utia were squeezed out. For Mata’utia especially it was sad to see to his time at the club end; big things were expected after coming through the junior system, but after debuting for Australia at just 18, he never quite got the breaks he needed: injuries and concussions plagued his eight years at the Knights.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
Despite not winning the Danny Buderus Medal, and also being controversially left out of the NSW State of Origin team, Knights prop David Klemmer was easily the most consistent performer in 2020. He played every game for the Knights and topped all the major forward-based stats for the club; statistically he was the second-best prop in the game in season 2020.
2021 GAINS AND LOSSES
Tyson Frizzell (Dragons) Blake Green (Warriors) Dominic Young (Huddersfield)
Tim Glasby (retired) Hermen Ese’ese (Titans) Aiden Guerra (retired) Sione Mata’utia (St Helens) Andrew McCullough (Broncos) Tautau Moga (released) Mason Lino (released)