Greatest Teams Ever Pt 8: Newcastle Knights

Another installment in our series as we preview the Newcastle Knights and what we view as their greatest team ever. They have also been privileged to have tremendous players donning the red and blue Knights jersey as well as several premierships to their name. Despite some lean years at present, their past is rich.

Once again, we must mention, the side is made up of players that have played almost exclusively for the Newcastle Knights throughout their career.

Without further hesitation, here is the Knights side we have chosen as our greatest 17 ever:

1. Kurt Gidley – The Knights won the 2001 NRL premiership but it was a game that Gidley did not play in. His first official game came a few weeks earlier in Rd 24 of the same season before he played in the Knights side that lost the 2002 World Club Challenge.
From there, he slowly became a regular of the side and etched himself into modern Knights folklore. He won the Knights’ first ever golden point game in 2004 but he unfortunately went on to miss most of the 2005 season due to injury. His first representative honour came with the NSW Country side in the City v Country game before he then represented the Prime Minister’s XIII.
After enjoying a solid 2007 season, Gidley was rewarded with Origin duties and in 2008, led the club in both point-scoring and try-scoring. His season was so good that he won the club’s player of the year award. With the departure of Danny Buderus, Gidley was made captain ahead of the 2009 season.
The following year in 2009, he was also named captain and fullback of the NSW side before playing in the NRL All-Stars game in successive years (2010 and 2011).
Gidley then continued to perform and impress for the Knights and forged a reputation as a loyal, hard-working player. His time at the Knights eventually came to an end after 251 games, 80 tries and 452 goals, before he headed to English side the Warrington Wolves where he currently plays.


2. Robbie O’Davis – Growing up in Toowoomba, O’Davis played for the Knights his entire career. Toiling away and performing for the first few years of his career, he played both wing and fullback for the duration of it. At the height of the Super League war, O’Davis played for both the Maroons and the Australian side, impressing for both when given the opportunity.
A popular player among the fans, O’Davis was impressive in the Knights 1997 ARL grand final and won the Clive Churchill Medal as a result. The following year was the opposite, however, after O’Davis as well as team-mate Wayne Richards were suspended for a whopping 22 weeks after testing positive to a banned anabolic steroid.
Slowly making his way back into the side and regaining the trust, O’Davis was also a member of the Knights 2001 premiership success and then in their 2002 World Club Challenge clash.
After a couple more seasons with the club, he retired at the end of the 2004 NRL season.


3. Matt Gidley – Regarded as one of the greatest players to ever don the Newcastle Knights jersey, right from his junior days through to his NRL career, Gidley played solely for the Knights. A youngster at the Wests club in the Newcastle rugby league competition, Gidley’s junior career actually began as a five-eighth. However, with the arrival of Matthew Johns, he was shifted to centre where he went on to forge a fantastic career.
In the end, his debut at the club came in 1996 and from there, Gidley never looked back as he made numerous appearances for both New South Wales and the Australian Kangaroos. He was a crucial player in the Knights charge towards the 2001 NRL premiership and like many other players, he became a very important player and a fan favourite at the club.
One major trait to Gidley’s game was his glorious flick pass that captivated fans and set up numerous tries. His partnership with Timana Tahu became a focal point for much of Gidley’s career as the two developed a playing bond at both club and state level.
He continued to perform well and eventually retired from the NRL and the Knights in 2006 becoming just the fourth Knights player to play 200 games. Gidley finished his Knights career with 221 games and 68 tries.
He then had a stint with St Helens in the Super League. His time with the Knights was not finished, though, as he joined the club as a Business Development Manager in 2011. Later on in the year, he was appointed as the CEO of Football by the Hunter Sports Group.


4. Mark Hughes – All teams need honest, hard-working players and Mark Hughes was all that and more. A genuine person, he had heart, passion and determination for the Knights team for the duration of his time there. A Kurri Kurri junior, Hughes joined the Knights during the 1997 season and enjoyed immediate success, playing on the wing in the club’s 1997 ARL premiership victory.
Eventually, Hughes was then shifted to centre where he enjoyed further premiership success, this time in 2001 when the Knights won the NRL premiership. That same year, he played for NSW in all three games, all at fullback.
As his Knights career wore on, the injuries became more frequent and hampered Hughes, his game and did not enable him to achieve the consistency he would have liked. At the end of the 2005 season, he departed the club and spent a season with Catalans. Knights fans, former players and the team itself gave him much needed support when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013. Fighting hard against the illness, he set up the Mark Hughes Foundation and continues to make a recovery to this day.


5. Adam Macdougall – Whilst we all know and love Macdougall as a tremendous player for the Knights, his NRL career actually began with the Sydney Roosters in 1995. It was not until 1997 that he joined the Knights and enjoyed immediate success, with the club winning the competition. His good form continued in 1998 and he was rewarded with a maiden Origin jumper for New South Wales. However, later that year, he tested positive to stimulants Ephedrine and Amfepramone indicating the possible use of steroids and he was subsequently banned for 11 games.
It was later revealed that a prior head injury had damaged Macdougall’s pituitary gland and it was imperative that he take Sustanon 250 which included a banned steroid.
After serving his suspension, Macdougall returned to the Knights in 1999 and after just a couple of games, he was selected once again for New South Wales. Many believe that his two best seasons came in 2000 and 2001 where Macdougall scored 30 tries in 41 games before starring for NSW in their Origin series win in 2000. He also played in the 2000 World Cup Final and then won a second premiership with the Knights in 2001. Continuing to perform solidly for the club, he made a surprising move when he departed and signed with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Playing with the Bunnies for three seasons, MacDougall then returned to the Knights in 2007 and enjoyed a further 6 seasons with the club.
In the end, Macdougall played 158 games for the Knights club and in 2011, he announced his retirement.


6. Matthew Johns – The eldest of the Johns brothers, Matthew was raised in Cessnock and played his junior footy in the region before joining the Knights in 1991. He made his NRL debut in 1992 and played alongside his brother in the halves for nine years. Forming a sound combination with his brother, their play led to success during the 1997 ARL season when they won the premiership before doing it for a second time in 2001, winning the NRL premiership. A part of the 1995 Rugby League World Cup squad, Johns enjoyed success with the Knights and for Australia but played few games with the Blues.
In the end, after 176 games with the club, Johns departed and signed with the Wigan Warriors for the 2001 season. Performing strongly there, he was involved in a grand final which Wigan lost but he returned to the NRL for one more season with the Sharks.
Injuries to his shoulder and neck forced him to retire. He remains a vocal figure in the NRL world and is currently a key member of the Fox Sports NRL team.


7. Andrew Johns – In the eyes of many, he is the greatest player to have ever donned the Knights jersey. A play-maker, a visionary and a tremendous player, the Knights won countless games and two premierships on the back of the form of Andrew Johns.
Like his brother Matt, Johns played his junior footy in Cessnock and it was clear that he had natural ability. At just 15, the Knights signed him onto their junior ranks and he would not have to wait long for a first-grade appearance as injury to the incumbent halfabck saw Johns rewarded with an opportunity. He made a tremendous first impression as he scored 23 points and won the man-of-the-match award.
In 1995, Johns had the chance to play for Australia at the Rugby League World Cup and made the most of that opportunity as he won a man-of-the-match award playing at hooker and was then named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. From here, he became a mainstay across club, state and international teams.
The 1997 grand final could have been very different had Johns not played, as he was entering the game with an apparent rib injury. However, the club stalwart played and was the difference, leading the side to premiership victory that season. He was even better in the 1998 season as the club lost just five games and Johns was instrumental in that fantastic season. He was named the 1998 Dally M Player of the Year.
1999 was much of the same for the play-maker as another impressive season saw him take out successive Dally M Medal’s, the first player to go back-to-back in this regard at the time since Mick Cronin in 1977 and 1978. Named captain after the retirement of Paul Harragon and the departure of his brother, Johns continued to perform and again guided the side to glory, this time in the 2001 NRL premiership.
There was no stopping Johns as in 2002, he continued to impress and perform magnificently. Unfortunately, injury struck that year, after he broke a bone in his back in the finals, ending the Knights hopes of winning the premiership that year. His form throughout the season had been so good, that he won a third Dally M Medal, a feat that has only been replicated by Johnathan Thurston.
This one injury culminated in a turbulent time for Johns over the next few seasons. He suffered a serious neck injury that threatened his career in 2003, injured his ACL and was out for most of the 2004 season and then broke his jaw during the 2005 season.
After that, speculation was rife that Johns would consider a switch to Union but he eventually opted to remain in rugby league and ended up being the shining light that NSW needed to win an Origin series in 2005. He had a short-term deal with the Warrington Wolves after agreeing to re-sign with the Knights.
He then broke a long-standing rugby league record in Australia in 2006, when he surpassed Michael Cronin to claim the the point-scoring record for a player at a single club. He broke another record in the same year, passing Jason Taylor to become the highest point-scorer in the history of Australian rugby league.
2007 would prove to be the last season in the NRL for Johns after he was concussed early on in the season as with scans then confirming that he had a bulging disc in his neck. This injury led Johns to confirm that he was retiring from the game.


8. Tony Butterfield – A durable, hard-working prop, Butterfield’s career began with the Penrith Panthers but after just four games in two years, he made the move to the Newcastle Knights. Joining them in 1988 in their inaugural season, from there, he never looked back as he became a regular in the side up until his retirement from the game in 2000.
At the time of his retirement, he was the club’s highest capped player with 200 games before that record was broken by Andrew Johns. He played one game for the Country Origin side and one game for New South Wales in 1989 and 1998 respectively. His services to the club were honoured when he was named in the Knights Team of the Decade in 1997 and again in 2007 in their Team of the Era.


9. Danny Buderus – Yet another tremendous player to don the Knights jersey, Danny Buderus is the greatest hooker to have played for the club. Playing only for the Knights, his career with the club over two stints saw him play 257 games in total in club colours.
Early on in the 1997 ARL season, Buderus made his debut but that was the only game he would play that year. His game-time increased as the 1998 season wore on and eventually, he become a regular in the side that went on to win a premiership in 2001. 2001 was also the first year that Buderus was picked for both NSW Country and Australia, going on to play 5 games and 24 games respectively.
After another successful year in 2002, Buderus made his Origin debut and played 21 games for his state throughout his career. The 200th game of his career came in that year, as did just rewards for his performances as he took out the Dally M Hooker of the Year and Dally M Representative Player of the Year.
2004 was probably the best season in Buderus’ career as he took out the Dally M Medal – just the second hooker to do so after Mal Cochrane – as well as the Dally M Hooker of the Year Award yet again. He took out the award for a third time after winning it in 2005.
After several more years with the Knights, Buderus departed for a stint with Super League side, the Leeds Rhinos. He returned to the club in the 2012 season and was in the Country Origin side just 7 weeks upon his return. Still performing at a decent level, Buderus played on until the 2013 season before he announced his retirement from the game.


10. Paul Harragon – A Kurri Kurri local, Paul Harragon has been a part of the Newcastle system since his early days as a rugby league player. Joining the Knights in 1988 from Lakes United, he made his first-grade debut in 1989 against Balmain.
A genuine leader and a physical presence on the field, he led from the front and galvanised his team-mates to come together and be the best players they could be. Before long, he became a regular for both the NSW and the Australian sides, representing both on 20 occasions.
His toughness and determination was all the more impressive and noticeable in 1997 when as captain, he led the side to ARL premiership glory in 1997 despite suffering from headaches and seizures for most of that season.
1999 would prove to be Harragon’s last in the NRL as he was forced to retire from the game due to a knee injury. He would not be lost to the game, though, as he started work with NBN Newcastle and then Channel Nine and was at one point a Director at the Knights. He has also been made a life member.


11. Paul Marquet – He might be a household name but Marquet did not have to be one, for he was an honest, hard-working toiler that went on to win three premierships in his career. Adept primarily as a back-rower, Marquet was resilient in his efforts and consistent and in 1990, he was handed his Knights debut. He found a home on the edge at the club and in his final year of his first stint with them, he played a role in their 1996 ARL premiership success.
The following year, he had a stint with the Hunter Mariners before moving to the Storm for several seasons where he won another premiership. He returned home to Newcastle for a final NRL swansong in 2001 and yet again, won a title, with the Knights taking out the NRL premiership that year with Marquet playing off the bench.


12. Steve Simpson – Born in Maitland near Newcastle, the back-rower could also play both prop and lock and played out his entire career with the Knights. With 216 games for the Knights to his name, 3 games for Country NSW, 13 games for New South Wales and 7 games for Australia, Simpson enjoyed a successful career across all levels.
Simpson made his debut in 1999 and was lucky enough to win a premiership just two years later when the Knights took home the title in 2001. He enjoyed much consistency across his career but was forced to retire in 2010 due to a knee injury.


13. Billy Peden – Yet another Newcastle local, Peden hailed from Cessnock much like the Johns brothers and played alongside many of the aforementioned names here. Making his debut back in 1994, Peden played predominantly back-row but was also able to cover both the hooker and lock positions. He was a consistent performer who went on to play 190 games for the club and was a member of two premiership winning sides at the Knights in 1997 and then again in 2001.
He retired in the 2002 season before heading to England for a year to play with the London Broncos. He returned to the Knights as a coach later in his career.


14. Mark Sargent – A skilful prop, the local Newcastle junior started his career with the Canterbury Bulldogs but after just a few seasons that culminated in 19 games, he returned home to play for the Knights and never looked back. He made an immediate impact at the club with his form guiding him to the Rothmans Medal alongside Gavin Miller. His form continued in 1990 and this led to his sole Origin performance in that same year and then for Australia, who he played four games for.
1991 saw Sargent miss a lot of time due to injury but he did bounce back in 1992 to perform strongly and played for Australia at the World Cup that year. In addition to the above, Sargent was also captain of the Knights alongside fellow prop Paul Harragon for the 1995 season. This would be his last season as he then retired from the game.
He was a team manager at the Knights during their 2001 NRL premiership success before leaving the role in 2005.


15. Marc Glanville – A Wagga Wagga junior, Glanville’s first foray into the rugby league world came in a brief stint with the St George Dragons in 1986. Culminating in just 8 games over two seasons, he joined the Knights for their inaugural season in 1988 and never looked back.
He went on to enjoy a long, storied career with the club playing with them until 1997 when he retired. He was a member of the club’s 1996 ARL premiership success, their maiden title, and played for the Country Origin side on three occasions. In total, he played 188 games for the club, before making the move to England to play with Leeds for two seasons.
He is currently a part of the KOFM radio commentary team that calls Knights games.


16. Robbie McCormack – Starting his career with the Knights in 1988, McCormack soon become a mainstay of the team and was a nifty, lively hooker. Always looking to improve, his good form saw him rewarded with a maiden Origin appearance in 1992 and then again in 1993 when he replaced Benny Elias in the role. In total, he played in two games for the NSW side and three for Country Origin. He eventually became captain of the Knights team and was a member of their maiden premiership success in 1996.
The year after, though, he joined the Hunter Mariners for one season before moving to England to play for Wigan where he won the Super League grand final.


17. Sean Rudder – A versatile utility, Rudder was the ultimate professional. Happy to play wherever he was needed, a lot of his performances came from the bench. When he was on the field, he worked hard, played hard and showed heart and a 6-season career with the Knights yielded 131 games and 21 tries. He was a member of the Knights premiership-winning side in 2001 and then made a move to England where he had stints with both the Castleford Tigers and the Catalan Dragons, before returning to Australia to play with Newtown. This culminated in a sole performance for the Roosters.


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