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2021 Newcastle Knights Team Preview

As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the Newcastle Knights will go in 2021.

After finally clinching a long-awaited return to the finals, the boys in red and blue will be looking to secure back-to-back finals appearances for the first time since 2003.

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

NRL Squad

Mitchell Barnett, Bradman Best, Jayden Brailey, Phoenix Crossland, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Tyson Frizell, Blake Green, Bailey Hodgson, Tex Hoy, Hymel Hunt, Brodie Jones, Josh King, David Klemmer, Edrick Lee, Kurt Mann, Jirah Momoisea, Brayden Musgrove, Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Daniel Saifiti, Jacob Saifiti, Nathanael Sasagi, Pasami Saulo, Gehamat Shibasaki, Sauaso Sue, Starford To’a, Enari Tuala, Connor Watson, Dominic Young.

Signings

Bailey Hodgson (Castleford), Dominic Young (Huddersfield), Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Sauaso Sue (Bulldogs), Jack Johns (development deal – Rabbitohs), Brayden Musgrove (Cessnock Goannas) Garrett Smith (Cowboys).

Departures

Aidan Guerra (retired), Tim Glasby (retired), Herman Ese’ese (Titans), Andrew McCullough (Broncos), Sione Mata’utia (St Helens), Mason Lino (Wakefield Trinity), Tautau Moga (Rabbitohs), Tyronne Roberts-Davis (released).

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First Five

Canterbury Bulldogs (H), New Zealand Warriors (A), Wests Tigers (H), St George-Illawarra Dragons (H), Gold Coast Titans (A).

WHAT TO EXPECT

After finishing in the top eight last year for the first time since 2013, nothing less than another venture into September will suffice for the success-starved Newcastle Knights. The team made some giant strides during the first half of the season under rookie coach Adam O’Brien, but fell back into bad habits in the second half of the year, the main objectives for O’Brien will be to get his team defending well again and competing for the full 80 minutes.

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After spending most of last pre-season concentrating on defence, the Knights’ attack suffered in 2020; O’Brien has said they will be spending more time training ‘with the ball’ this preseason, so expect the team to be more fluid in attack this year. Last-tackle plays were also a problem for Newcastle last season, so expect Blake Green to help take some of the kicking duties off Mitchell Pearce, who struggled with the pressure of being the only recognised general play kicker in the side.

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Green is also likely to be named the man to relieve Pearce of the captaincy after the halfback was stood down from the role. Despite only playing three games for the club last season, the impact Green made at the club has earned him the respect of players and hierarchy, enough so to be named in the five-man leadership group.

Another man who is new to the Knights is prized recruit Tyson Frizzell, who has joined the club from St George Illawarra. Frizzell, who had plenty of clubs chasing his signature as he came off contract at the Dragons, admits it was the vision O’Brien pitched to him about making him a better player that convinced the State of Origin representative to make the move to the Hunter.

Frizzell will bring a wealth of experience and toughness to the club, and despite not being in the leadership group, the Knights will be looking to Frizzell to lead by example. On paper the Knights have a great squad, but the leadership throughout the club has been severely lacking, bringing in a player of his calibre and integrity is a step in the right direction to rectifying these issues.

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The NRL have been kind to O’Brien’s side, dealing them a favourable draw for 2021, especially in the opening five rounds where the Knights don’t face a fellow top eight side from 2020. This will be appreciated by Newcastle as they will be missing both star fullback Kalyn Ponga and Green for the opening quarter of the season through injury.

The Knights have the luxury of only having to face last year’s top four sides on five occasions, whilst they play top eight opponents in just ten matches, leaving them with 14 match ups against sides from the bottom eight in 2020. Also crucially the Knights get the bye in Round 17 just prior to a tough run of fixtures against the Storm, Roosters and Raiders – which could very well shape their season.

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

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Top Tryscorer – Bradman Best

Top Pointscorer – Kalyn Ponga

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Club Player of the Year – Tyson Frizzell

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