Many are firm believers that the Newcastle Knights are destined for the spoon, with the view that their side on paper is not as strong as others. But do not tell that to defiant Knights fans, who remain optimistic that their team and new coach Nathan Brown, can produce the goods and help them be a surprise packet in the NRL during 2016. With a lot of questions from the outside about numerous positions in their line-up, whether Nathan Brown can make a successful return to the NRL as a coach and how they shape up against the elite NRL teams.But sometimes, all it takes is a bit of heart and determination, and you can jag a win and surprise the pundits.
Starting with Nathan Brown, he has returned to the NRL foray as a coach, after spending numerous years coaching in the English Super League. Like players that go to the Super League, coaches often come back with a fresh sense of optimism, a better understanding of the game and more experience, all of which holds them in good stead. Still relatively young from a coaching standpoint, he was quickly named by the club as the man they believed was their coach for the future. Though with new recruits hard to come by and the club reportedly still looking, they are likely to enter the 2016 season with a similar roster to that of 2015. That can sometimes work in a team’s favour, particularly if the players are familiar with each other and the style of play.
Brown’s approach to the club and their style will make for interesting watching as a passive fan, and what he can get out of the players in terms of performance, ability and consistency, will also be interesting to see.
The general make-up of their side is still largely unknown as well, particularly with the departure of several experienced back-line players. The likes of Kurt Gidley and James McManus who are no longer with the club – Gidley now at Warrington and McManus stepping down for the 2016 season – there is a hole in the Knights back-line stocks.
With much conjecture about who can play there and many fans sharing different views, there are very unique players all vying for a few spots.
Jaelen Feeney is one of those, a talented ball-player who has recently made a transition to fullback. Making such a move is never easy for a player and whether he can successfully make it remains to be seen, but the good signs are there. And good players can adapt quickly, as we all know.
There is also Jake Mamo. A very capable player with a surprising turn of speed, Mamo has long been a favourite of Manly Knights fans. Developing and maturing well as a player, it is merely a matter of time before he becomes a mainstay in the Knights side whether it is at fullback or on the wing.
Their halves did receive a boost, though, with the signing of experienced campaigner Trent Hodkinson. Set to make his Knights debut in the club’s trial this week, his creativity and solid play will help get the best out of Jarrod Mullen once more – or so the Knights fans hope. By their own admissions and to some extent, Mullen’s also, his form has been up, down and all around of late, often not being at the level that they expect to see.
It is a halves pairing full of promise and one that has plenty of talent in many different facets. If they gel early and can get solid link-up play with their team-mates, they will be good to watch.
As for Hodkinson himself, the new club brings a new, fresh challenge, one that he has said actively excites him as a player. He has also been down on form in recent times but as they say, sometimes all it takes is a new club for a player to shine once more and realise their full potential.
There is also a belief by fans outside of Newcastle that Nathan Brown will not enjoy much success at the club. Previously, he had a stint as St George coach some years back now, which ended in his departure. A quieter type of coach, Brown is very set in his ways, his style and his structure, and looks to find the right players to fit his systems. After recent stints in England with Huddersfield and St Helens – where he did enjoy some solid success as a coach – he returns to the NRL for the first time since his Dragons stint.
Ultimately, whilst many think the Knights will be spoon contenders in 2016, rugby league is a funny game. All it takes is a bit of confidence among a playing group and adapting to a style, and the players may well galvanise together and form strong partnerships on and off the field. They certainly have talent across the park in numerous positions and experience across the board to nurture the younger players coming through, so for the Knights, it is a question of gelling, performing and maintaining confidence.
Best Buy: The Knights have not been overly active in the player market but it is a no-brainer as to who the selection here is going to be. New half Trent Hodkinson has a lot to prove to himself, his new clubs and its fans. Playing alongside Jarrod Mullen in the halves, Hodkinson will be expected to take on a leadership role within the halves and call the shots to guide the team around the park in attack. A talented, able and creative player in his own right, recent times have seen Hodkinson struggle and regress in form somewhat, despite possessing sound ability as a player. With a chance to make his mark at a new club, Hodkinson can impress early and get the Knights into a good position if he gels well enough with team-mates and has confidence in himself.
Most Promising Talent: Another half for this one and it is a young one with the world at his feet. Knights fans are aware of his ability as a player and have been for a couple of seasons now, with Brock Lamb one to keep an eye on. Also a creative player, he has a good mix of vision as a half and a solid running game. Highly rated by many Knights fans and by those within the club, his talents have been on display in the Holden Cup and recent trials, prompting some calls for Lamb to be given opportunity when the time arises and when the club believe he is ready. With not much overall halves depth at the club, opportunity may emerge at some point if there are injuries.
2016 Gains: David Bhana (New Zealand Warriors, 2017), Krys Freeman (2016), Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2018), Mickey Paea (Hull FC, 2017), Pauli Pauli (Parramatta Eels, 2017), Will Pearsall (Manly Sea Eagles, 2017)
Our predicted team line-up:
1. Jake Mamo
2. Nathan Ross
3. Dane Gagai
4. Sione Mata’utia
5. Akuila Uate
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Trent Hodkinson
8. Kade Snowden
9. Danny Levi
10. Korbin Sims
11. Robbie Rochow
12. Tariq Sims
13. Jeremy Smith
14. Pauli Pauli
15. Tyler Randell
16. Jack Stockwell
17. Joseph Tapine