After a shocking first up season at the helm of the Knights, experienced coach Brian Smith will be hoping that his new squad of Knights will bring unsatisfied Newcastle supporters back to Energy Australia Stadium to support their club this year. Season 2007 saw Brian Smith cop tonnes of criticism from many corners, including local Newcastle business owners and the likes of John Singleton and Jack Newton in one of the darkest periods in the Knights history, and Smith will know that his team must perform to earn the regain the respect from the disheartened Knights fan base.
While the Knights have bolstered their ranks with several new signings and cleaned out a whole raft of players, it will take time for the new squad members to settle in and form combinations with each other. Of more concern is the harmony between remaining 2007 Knights players and Brian Smith, with the very public Danny Buderus feud threatening to tear the club apart. We should have a clear gauge on how Newcastle will fair by Round 10, as the new look Knights will face off against five of last years semi-finalists by then.
If Newcastle can stay healthy and build early confidence, than the Knights may well be an outside chance of capturing a semi-final position.
Having been given permission to clean out â€˜the dead woodâ€™, coach Smith and his recruitment team have managed to obtain a host of talented individuals to fill their void. The addition of Naiqama and Lulia more than compensates for the departure of Carmont and Thaiday, while props Wicks and Cross are adequate replacements for Perry and Woolnough. Matt Hilder will takeover Daniel Abrahamâ€™s utility role, and Ciraldo and Faâ€™aoso will replace the flair that Hinton and Reynoldson provided.
Coach Smith has replaced a host of middle aged players with a group of talented youngsters, and while you may not see the best of the seasons from the Knights this year, look out for them in season â€™09!
Given the massive player turnover throughout the club, it will take the Knights a few weeks before combinations start to gel. With so many new faces, and games against NRL heavyweights Manly, Parramatta, New Zealand, Brisbane and the Roosters all preceding their Round 7 bye, coach Smith and his players may well behind the eight ball in terms of confidence and table position.
2008 Likely NRL Starting Team:
1- Kurt Gidley
2- Cooper Vuna
3- Adam McDougall
4- Wes Naiqama
5- James McManus
6- Jarrod Mullen
7- Luke Walsh
8- Ben Cross
9- Danny Buderus
10- Danny Wicks
11- Mitchell Sargent
12- Steve Simpson
13- Cory Paterson
14- Terrence Seu Seu
15- Daniel Tolar
16- Matt Hilder
17â€“ Chris Houston
2008 NRL Pre-Season Trial Match Schedule:
15/02/08 v New Zealand Warriors @ North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
01/03/08 v Cronulla Sharks @ Cessnock
2008 Acquisitions and Departures:
Wes Naiqama, Danny Wicks and Keith Lulia (St George-Illawarra), Matt Hilder (Gold Coast), Ben Cross (Melbourne), Cameron Ciraldo (Cronulla), Richard Faâ€™aoso (Parramatta), Sione Finefeuaki (Manly)
Adam Woolnough and Brad Tighe (Penrith), Kirk Reynoldosn (St George-Illawarra), Josh Perry (Manly), Riley Brown (Sydney Roosters), Daniel Abraham (Central Coast), Kade Snowden (Cronulla), Nathan Hinton (Newcastle Wests), Milton Thaiday (Charlestown), David Seage (QLD Cup), Reegan Tanner, Trent Salkeld and George Carmont (released)