Ladder Position: 16th
Points For: 428
Points Against: 648
Top Try Scorer: Nathan Ross (10 tries)
Home Record: 4 wins, 8 losses
Away Record: 1 win, 11 losses
Highlight of the Season
There won’t be too many people out there who would say a third straight wooden spoon is a sign of a decent season. The fact that Newcastle won five times as many games this season as last year shows that things are slowly moving in the right direction.
In terms of their best game, plenty of consideration must go to a round 10 win over the Raiders. It was just their second win of the season. Having been written off before kick-off, Newcastle came out on top in a high-scoring and entertaining match.
A late season three-game winning streak was also a big highlight for the Knights. Beating the Dragons and Warriors in back-to-back weeks represented a big leap forward, but beating the highly touted Parramatta Eels to round out three wins in a row, and snatch their only win away from home all season, was a tremendous highlight. The comprehensive style 29-10 win might just edge the best game of Newcastle’s season.
The actual highlight of the season has to be Newcastle’s fans. Given the football that has been served up to them over the years, including just one win in 2016, the fact that Knights fans keep turning up in big numbers, with the fourth highest average crowd in the league, is a testament to the meaning of the sport and the team in a proud regional centre.
Lowlight of the Season
There are plenty of disappointing losses to consider here, from a 40-0 hammering at the hands of the Panthers in round four to a 38-8 loss to the Gold Coast Titans in round nine.
The season as a whole must go down as one giant step in the right direction and picking out a handful of heavy defeats won’t change that. One lowlight is the inability of the club to keep Queensland State of Origin star Dane Gagai at the club from next season.
Gagai made it clear that he’s had enough and was ready to leave. Sadly, an upturn in results and some strong recruitment for next season couldn’t change his mind, with the Maroons centre joining South Sydney for next season.
It is also worth mentioning the last-minute loss to the Bulldogs at Belmore, which would’ve been a win for the Knights but for a late fade and a shocker of a penalty kick from Brock Lamb.
What Went Right
It is impossible to overestimate the feel-good factor that the Knights’ three game winning streak brought to the region, with the big crowds rewarded for their perseverance and passion with some tangible results.
On the field, the emergence of Lamb as a composed and directional half will also excite the Newcastle faithful. Lamb could have easily crumbled under the weight of his torrid penalty goal attempt at Belmore against the Bulldogs, when he had a chance to level up the game after the final siren and send it to golden point. But from just about any viewpoint, the young five-eighth grew an arm and a leg after that and played some of his best footy, a great sign of things to come.
The return of Trent Hodkinson, one of the good guys in the game, was also a step in the right direction. As the highest-paid star on the team, things could have got ugly but he acted very professionally and forced his way back into the first team before finishing the season well.
What Went Wrong
As with any young side, the Knights often found themselves muscled out of games and that is something that the coaching staff and Nathan Brown will continue to address.
Their young forward pack was able to play with excitement and enthusiasm early, and often managed to keep it up if they maintained possession and kept themselves in a game. But if they went behind early, or found themselves in a grinding contest with some more experienced forward packs, they had the potential to get bashed out of games.
The late season loss to the Storm, not entirely an issue in its own right given the strength of the Minor Premiers, was a classic example of this. For 55 minutes, the Knights found themselves in an arm wrestle and a close contest, but as they tired and were grinded down by the big, hulking Storm pack, errors started to creep in. With less possession and more defensive work to do, Newcastle fa and the Storm ran away with the game.
Stand Out Player
There are a few candidates for this one.
Special mention must go to cult hero Nathan Ross. The ‘Ross Dog’ has found a happy home in the Hunter and has become a crowd favourite courtesy of his strong runs, his passion and his visible enthusiasm for playing football each week.
Hodkinson played some good footy and took on a leadership role through the season while second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon marked himself as a strong-running, ball-playing, try-scoring forward who could be set for a decent pay day moving forward.
Gagai played some good football for the Knights as well but probably saved his best footy for the Origin arena, where he was a star for the Queensland Maroons. The young Saifiti brothers, Daniel and Jacob, came on leaps and bounds as forwards and could be set for big futures at the club.
The overall standout player has to be Lamb. The 20-year-old five-eighth was thrown into the deep end much earlier than his ideal development plan would have been, but he coped with adversity well. As previously mentioned, he had the horror miss against the Bulldogs but bounced back to become an important asset for the Knights.
Lamb also picks up this award after coming of age in 2017. He has considerable resilience and could be set for a huge career in the NRL. He will certainly provide a huge boost for Newcastle going into 2018.
Sam Stone, son of former coach Rick, also showed plenty of grit and promise in his 16 appearances in 2017. The forward grabbed two tries and could be another exciting prospect moving forward.
Recruitment for 2018
2018 Gains: Herman Ese’ese (Brisbane Broncos), Aidan Guerra (Sydney Roosters), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters), Tautau Moga (Brisbane Broncos), Kalyn Ponga (North Queensland Cowboys), Connor Watson (Sydney Roosters)
2018 Losses: Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Rory Kostjasyn (retired), Sam Mataora (retired), Jarrod Mullen (released), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Tyler Randell (Wakefield Trinity), Anthony Tupou (retired), Joe Wardle (Castleford Tigers)
The Knights have invested heavily in bringing in a raft of NRL standard players from rival clubs with the focus on complementing the growth and development of their young squad.
In players like Herman Ese’ese, Tautau Moga, Kalyn Ponga and Connor Watson, the Knights beat out a host of rival NRL clubs to some extremely talented prospects. The Broncos, Cowboys and Roosters will not have wanted to lose any of them and the fact that they had to fight off competition for their respective signatures bodes well.
The mid-season acquisition of an experienced back in Shaun Kenny-Dowall was a handy move and picking up former Queensland Origin man Aidan Guerra is also a good piece of business.
Onwards and upwards.
Looking beyond the results, and the five wins, the Knights took a huge step in the right direction with their on-field efforts. Their young players will benefit from a year of experience and the addition of some exciting talent.
The fact that they are making progress won’t absolve Brown of the responsibility of pushing things further and winning more games in 2018. But with the off-field future of the club shored up with the Wests Group taking control, there are plenty of reasons for the Newcastle faithful to be excited about the future.
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