Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

A new day and a new preview. For part 9, it will be the Newcastle Knights that come under the microscope. Off the bat, the loss of Jarrod Mullen for a decent portion of the season is a blow for the club and with uncertainty over who will the now vacant 5/8 role, can that person step up? With an ageing roster, is there such a thing as too much experience in a side and how will that affect the Knights moving forward.

GAINS: Travis Waddell (Pre Season – Souths Logan Magpies) Clint Newton (Penrith Panthers) Russell Packer (New Zealand Warriors) Matt Minto (North Queensland Cowboys) Jaelen Feeney (Canterbury Bulldogs) Tuiala Togitasi (Sydney Roosters)

Veterans, veterans and more veterans. That is the approach from the Newcastle Knights and so far – at least over the last couple of seasons – it has worked for them and seen them make the finals. It begs the question, though, can a side have too much experience? With experience comes the higher likelihood that players get injured more often – as they get older and the body suffers more wear and tear – and as a result, it can perhaps hinder the development of young players coming through that are waiting for their chance.

Purchasing players en masse was not really the go for the Knights, as they strengthened some positions with depth and bought a few talented young kids from rival clubs, who may or may not get their opportunities to play in first-grade as the season wears on.
All that said, the Knights have no issues in developing and producing talented youngsters – they have a fair few of them as well – and that will be discussed further down in this preview.

The recent turmoil the Knights have faced in regards to off-field issues has left some fans scratching their heads as to whether there is some sort of perceived culture problem at the club.
Whether it was veteran prop Willie Mason pleading guilty to drink driving, players getting in trouble left, right and centre or Russell Packer getting the sack after a rather serious offence, the off-season has been one to forget for the Knights and it remains to be seen as to whether they can put that behind them or whether it affects them adversely.

Perhaps no player is a bigger loss than prop Russell Packer, though. Packer was signed, Knights fans were excited to have a prop his of his size and caliber on board but just a few short months into his decision, the club were forced to sack him after he found himself on the wrong side of the law. That was a big loss for the Knights, who perhaps lack some experienced front-row depth and will instead have to rely on talented youngsters who may not be ready to make the step up just yet.

That is not the only potential issue facing the Knights, though, as they are also going to have to make a decision soon on who will play at five-eighth and who will play at hooker.
With experienced options or inexperienced options at their disposal, the decision will not be an easy one – but with key playmaker Jarrod Mullen out to begin the season, the onus is on coach Wayne Bennett to make the decision and decide who fits the team best. Do you play club stalwart Kurt Gidley in the halves or at hooker? Is there a possibility that the likes of Adam Clydsdale and Travis Waddell get the hooker position? Or will Bennett produce a move out of left-field and play someone like Matt Hilder in the role?

One player who will have to step up for the Knights – even more so now that Jarrod Mullen is gone – is young halfback Tyrone Roberts.
He has already shown the NRL what he can do with the ball in hand and how easily he can create opportunities but with no Mullen to help steer the ship, is that the sort of form that Roberts can maintain heading into the 2014 season and beyond?
Can he mesh well with Gidley or Michael Dobson in the halves? His skills have been on show and he has the talent, but stepping up to the plate in the absence of an injured player is something that some players thrive in, whereas other players crumble as a result.

Overall, despite the off-field issues, the uncertainty over positions and the injury to Mullen, the Knights still have the quality and potential to succeed and perform well. As to how far they go, that depends on how well they play and how consistently they can do so. Normally slow-ish starters, the key for the Knights is to start well early and they can beat anyone.

Player To Watch: Adam Clydsdale. When you think of talented, up-and-coming NRL hookers, Clydsdale is one that springs to mind. If it does not, then you obviously have not seen him play enough to see just how talented he is for a young player. With an air of quiet confidence – controlled confidence at that – some crafty ball-skills and an ability to read the game to boot, Clydsdale is a young player that is destined for big things in the NRL at some point. Whether he gets an opportunity now or in the future at some point, he is the sort of player that is likely to make the most of it and likely to become a mainstay of the Knights side for a very long time.

Here’s the side I’d go with:

1. Darius Boyd
2. Akuila Uate
3. Joey Leilua
4. Dane Gagai
5. James McManus
6. Kurt Gidley (C)
7. Tyrone Roberts
8. Willie Mason
9. Adam Clydsdale
10. Kade Snowden
11. Beau Scott
12. Robbie Rochow
13. Jeremy Smith

14. Travis Waddell
15. Zane Tetevano
16. Korbin Sims
17. Alex McKinnon

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