Andrew Pelechaty reviews the 2023 Season of the Newcastle Knights where they finished fifth on the ladder.
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Newcastle’s Golden Run
Along with the New Zealand Warriors, Newcastle was the breakout team of 2024.
After Round 17, the Knights were 14th and coach Adam O’Brien seemed destined to lose his job.
But a 66-0 hiding of Canterbury-Bankstown started a nine-game winning streak, which was enough for a fifth-place finish and a precious home final.
They saw off a brave Canberra 30-28 in the packed-out elimination final (29,548) at McDonald Jones Stadium, but their wonderful season ended with a heavy loss to – funnily enough – the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium (now Go Media Stadium).
So, how did Newcastle turn it around?
Superstar Kalyn Ponga was a huge factor: after playing his first handful of games at five-eighth (and missing some weeks due to ongoing concussion issues – including a trip to Canada to help his recovery), he switched to fullback in Round 13 against Manly Warringah. Newcastle won 10 of 14 with Ponga at fullback, including the nine-game run to the finals, and he was rewarded with the Dally M Medal (though non-Newcastle fans would argue Shaun Johnson was very unlucky). He also finished with 128 points (9 tries, 46 goals, and a 76% goalkicking conversion rate). While Ponga can be a lightning rod for the scandal-hungry NRL media, surely any debate about his best position is finished now?
But it wasn’t just the Ponga Show: England’s Dominic Young scored 25 tries in 25 games, including four in the Mudgee draw against Manly Warringah – after he was briefly dropped to NSW Cup. After moving from the Wests Tigers, Jackson Hastings played 22 games, scored four tries, and became a handy back-up goalkicker (with 16 goals). And Bradman Best had one of his most consistent (and injury-free) seasons, scoring 13 tries from 25 games and earning a NSW Origin jersey.
The great thing about Newcastle’s run was the way they won: they outscored their opponents 349-132 in 10 games. They put 108 in two games against Canterbury alone, and the closest wins were 30-28 against The Dolphins (Round 23) and Canberra (elimination final). The Novocastrians responded, with home crowds regularly topping 20,000. And their loyalty was rewarded, with the Knights’ NRLW side winning their second straight premiership, beating the Gold Coast Titans on NRL Grand Final day.
Key Player Stats
Most Try Assists: 21, Kalyn Ponga
Most Line-breaks: 32, Dominic Young
Most Run Metres: 4,415, Greg Marzhew
Most Post Contact Metres: 1,440, Greg Marzhew
Most Tackles: 923, Phoenix Crossland
Most Errors: 45, Dominic Young