A team mired with off-field turmoil and poor results on the field – not from a lack of trying or being committed, though – the Newcastle Knights are well and truly a team rebuilding at present. In the eyes of many, however, they are slated to win a second successive wooden spoon.
The question must be asked, though, are they really that bad? Whilst they may not have the overall team to make the top eight, they do have heart, spirit and determination, due to the nature of coaching employed by Nathan Brown. A coach who enjoys rebuilding a team to get them up to his standards, a lot of the older, veteran players have departed, replaced by talented, upcoming youngsters. Whilst some of the youngsters have proved themselves more than others, the investment in them is the best part as they look to develop for the future. Furthermore, is it a technique that usually works or does a team need enough experience to balance out their youth and to help them grow and develop.
The make-up of their halves will look different in light of the positive drug test by Jarrod Mullen. Whilst his experienced will be sorely missed, many Knights fans believe it could be a blessing in disguise as it will give one of their younger halves a chance to enjoy a prolonged period in the first-grade line-up. That likely player is Brock Lamb, a young half who is highly rated by Knights fans and has an astute knowledge of the game. Whilst Trent Hodkinson will steer the ship, Lamb’s role will be to control his side of the field and produce solid link-up play to his outside centres and wingers.
With a team that possesses so much youth, the key is to help bring them all together and produce methods to draw out their talents for the betterment of the team. Whilst they may take time to both gel and come into their own as young players, their own individual belief in their abilities and the way the coach perceives them and nurtures them will be the big challenge for the Knights young guns this season.
In the end, many are writing off the Knights and perhaps on form and their roster, part of that is justified. However, if rugby league has taught fans anything, it is that the game is unpredictable and the mix of the youth and experience plus a coach that has high expectations of his players, they will work hard, play hard and remain competitive.
Best buy: Needing experience and versatility desperate, an astute addition for the Knights will be Jamie Buhrer. A versatile second-row forward that can cover hooker and centre if need be, his style of play and solid defensive efforts are just what the doctor ordered for an inexperienced Knights forward pack. Impressive during his time at Manly, Knights fans will be hoping that he can emulate that type of success. He looms as a key player on the fringes for the club, as they look to rebuild and get themselves off the bottom of the ladder – by the expectations of many, at least.
Best Young Talent: With a spot in the halves up for grabs, one of the Knights talents that has a chance to prove his mettle and hold down a spot is young gun, Brock Lamb. A talented half that has had Knights fans raving for a few seasons now, he has excelled in the Holden Cup for the club. With a steeled half in Hodkinson by his side, Lamb has all the tools to provide the perfect foil for him and carve out his own path. If he performs strongly enough, the Knights may have found the half that they can build their side around moving forward.
2017 gains: Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Gagan, Rory Kostjaysn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling & Joe Wardle.
Our predicted Knights line-up at full strength:
- Peter Mata’utia
- Ken Sio
- Dane Gagai
- Joe Wardle
- Nathan RossSa
- Brock Lamb
- Trent Hodkinson
- Daniel Saifiti
- Danny Levi
- Josh Starling
- Sione Mata’utia
- Jamie Buhrer
- Mitch Barnett
14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Anthony Tupou
17. Sam Mataora