Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 8: Newcastle Knights

Like other teams, there have been some reshuffles across the board at the Newcastle Knights. There’s new off-field staff in place, a back to the future type move with their new/old coach and a changing of the guard of sorts in terms of the new players. Despite that, the Knights have the core of a very good, young side and if they play to their potential, a handy season is not beyond them.

From the get-go, the thing you notice with the Knights side for 2015 is the amount of experience they have lost. The likes of Boyd, Mason, Hilder and Tahu have all left, leaving the side with a handful of experience but perhaps not as much as a club would like. With the departure of the old guard, though, comes the initiation of the newer, younger brigade, hungry to make an impact, earn a spot and get stuck into the season. This newer brigade comes in the form of talented players like the Mata’utia brothers (Chanel, Sione and Pat) and from exciting back-row prospect, Joseph Tapine. All have the makings of fine players and all will be crucial for the Knights over the course of the season.

Another big talking point out Newcastle way is just who will get the nod at hooker. Adam Clydsdale is obviously the favourite to start in the role and his talents have been on show across all three grades for the last couple of seasons but he will be under some pressure at some point in the season. Whether coach Rick Stone opts to go for Danny Levi or Tyler Randell on the bench as a hooker remains to be seen, but it will have Clydsdale looking over his shoulder and hoping that form wise, he can retain his spot. Levi in particular is a player with a big future and one that the Knights have been grooming for some time. Already captain of the NYC side, is playing abilities and leadership skills are why he is held in such high regard and if you have not seen him play, than you are in for a treat.

The final make-up of the Knights side will also be an interesting one, especially the back-line. The halves are set in stone as is the fullback role but many fans have differing views over who should start on the wings and in the centres. The emergence of Sione Mata’utia last year makes the final make-up of the side more interesting, as the dynamics of the back-line are still to be determined. Mata’utia has the talent and Knights fans have known that for quite some time but there is a school of thought among some fans that experience is the way to go, meaning Mata’utia may have to start the year in the NSW Cup. Additionally, the blistering early trial form of Jake Mamo has the speedster on the cusp of a prolonged stint in first-grade. Impressing at the Auckland Nines and in trial games, Mamo is a player of the future and will heap the pressure onto those who are selected come Rd 1.

The Knights are a team that enjoy building towards the future and they have the players at their disposal within their ranks to make that happen, as the club transitions towards a solid, young core. For some, a player like Kurt Gidley is nearing the end of his career – some believe he should have retired by now – and that it is simply a matter of time before he does hang up the boots, leaving the fullback position wide open for the young guns to battle it out. Whilst Gidley may not be a player that is revered by every fan, his experience will prove vital to the Knigths chances and if he can stay injury-free, his ability from the back mixed in with the ball skills, will be a cruical asset for the club.

Essentially, the Knights are a team that always work hard, play hard and never give up. Whilst they may not possess the superstars of other teams, they do have quality in their team across the park and emerging players that are keen to make their mark on the game. The likes of Leilua and Gagai, both budding, talented centres, have game-breaking ability and have shown that in the past and with creative halves in Mullen and Roberts, they can control a game and take it away from the opposition. The Knights will certainly be no pushovers in 2015 and with a good coach in Rick Stone at the helm whom the players respect, the club will make the most of opportunities and work hard to achieve as many positive results as possible.

Best Buy: Every side needs one genuine utility player and sometimes, that can be hard to come by. Finding the right one is also no easy task and the Knights have enjoyed their fair share of utility players in the past but for 2015, they have probably signed their best one yet. Former Warrior, Carlos Tuimavave. Tuimavave is a gifted player and enjoyed a decent stint with the Warriors playing in a number of positions both in first-grade and in the other two grades. His ball-playing ability is second-to-none and is game awareness and composure to evaluate the best options for the team, especially in attack, are an asset that can help the Knights side. Although he may not start for the Knights straight away, knowing that the club has a genuine ball-player like Tuimavave, their halves depth looks a bit stronger.

Most Promising Talent: In rugby league, you just know when a young player is going to be a genuine superstar and for the Knights organisation and their fans, they can see that ability in young hooker, Danny Levi. Excelling as NYC captain for the last couple of seasons, Levi has lead from the front in a talented Knights outfit and has been incredibly consistent with both his form and his leadership. So much so, that the club are starting to take notice and including Levi in numerous trial squads where he also performed well. Whilst his main competition for a potential bench spot will come in Tyler Randell, leaving out naturally gifted players like Levi is always tough for a coach. One thing is for certain, though, if not at some point this year, Levi will play first-grade and potentially become the Knights number 1 hooker in a few years time, such is his ability.

Jack Cogger (2016), Brock Lamb (2017), Sam Mataora (Mid Season: Canberra Raiders), Tariq Sims (North Queensland Cowboys), Jack Stockwell (St George Illawarra Dragons), James Taylor (Mid Season: New Zealand Warriors), Carlos Tuimavave (New Zealand Warriors)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Kurt Gidley
2. Sione Mata’utia
3. Joey Leilua
4. Dane Gagai
5. Akuila Uate
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Tyrone Roberts
8. Kade Snowden
9. Adam Clydsdale
10. Korbin Sims
11. Tariq Sims
12. Beau Scott
13. Jeremy Smith

14. Danny Levi
15. Robbie Rochow
16. Jack Stockwell
17. Joseph Tapine

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