Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

Oh, it is that time again! NRL Previews with part 9 this time, the Newcastle Knights.

The Knights have been through some very lean years but as they look to rebuild under Nathan Brown, can they crack the top eight?

Boasting star recruits and a side already littered with talent, meshing and gelling remain the key to success.

But is their side ready to embark on a successful journey or will there be some growing pains?

Ponga; fullback or 5/8?

Some will say that the two positions are ultimately one and the same but it must be asked; are they?

For a player as gifted as Kalyn Ponga, where he plays may not matter in the scheme of things.

However, it may matter in terms of team dynamics. Ponga’s season for the Knights was electric at fullback before injury struck him down late on.

Rarely has a player so young performed so well, to the point where the Dally M was a whisker away from heading in his direction.

With his own future bright, his best position is the subject of much debate among Knights fans.

Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga

Is it at fullback, where he played most of the 2018 season, and was in fine form?

Or is it five-eighth, a position where you get your hands on the ball more often and can usually set more plays up and achieve repeat sets?

Wherever Ponga plays, such is his ability, that he should be expected to succeed and form a part of a strong nucleus at the Knights moving forward.

Coach Brown and his contract

For the most part, the Knights fanbase like Nathan Brown and what he has done to and with the Novocastrian side.

Although some out there are of the belief that he is not the man for the job. So let’s dissect a little bit.

In what has been a long, tough road for the Knights in recent years, Brown has made some tough decisions.

He has removed some older heads and replaced them with up-and-comers. In theory, the application of this approach can work.

In practice, ridding yourself of too many older heads can see too much pressure placed on the young guns.

With that in mind, though, there are enough older heads to help guide the promising players.

Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown

The likes of Mitch Pearce and Aidan Guerra will play crucial roles in Brown’s side, as he looks to help the Knights to a finals berth.

As for his contract – a very unique one at that – there is no set contract length.

Brown’s contract is one that is based on the performance of the Knights side over 2019 and beyond.

If the Novocastrians perform well and to the club standards, he stays in the role. If not, he will be let go.

Brown has agreed to that stipulation and contract and knows what is involved but relishes the chance to be the man to guide Newcastle to the promised land.

Leading by example

Named as the sole captain of the Newcastle Knights, Mitchell Pearce is expected to lead from the front.

A leader among men in the eyes of the club and its fans, Pearce has the experience to bring the troops together and prepare them for battle.

He will not be alone in the experienced stakes, however, with Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowall also boasting veteran status.

Despite that, Pearce is seen as the man to lead the Knights forward into a new generation of stars and talent.

With the likes of Ponga, the Saifiti brothers, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and others all performing strongly, Pearce’s role becomes even more critical.

Newcastle Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon

As the captain of not only the team but of the way in which the team plays on the field, he looms as the key man if the club are to make any inroads into the top eight.

He is capable of it and has juggled captaincy and playing before; although that was at a team many deemed more potent and attacking.

Nevertheless, Pearce has a chance to show just how good of a leader he can be and just how much he can extract from a developing side.

2019 Gains and Losses

Gains: Hymel Hunt (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019),  Zac Woolford (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2019), James Gavet (New Zealand Warriors, 2020), Mason Lino (New Zealand Warriors, 2020), Jesse Ramien (Cronulla Sharks, 2020), Tim Glasby (Melbourne Storm, 2021), Edrick Lee (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Kurt Mann (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021) and David Klemmer (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2023).

Losses: Jack Cogger  and Nick Meaney (both Canterbury Bulldogs), JJ Felise (Canberra Raiders), Cory Denniss (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Brock Lamb (Sydney Roosters), Ken Sio (Salford Red Devils) and Luke Yates (London Broncos). Chris Heighington (retired). Chanel Mata’utia, Pat Mata’utia, and Dylan Phythian (all released).

Player to Watch

Although their prop depth is considerably strong, one young player on the lips of every Knights fan is Pasami Saulo.

Coming through the club ranks, Saulo has impressed many coaches at all levels during his time with the club.

Strong performances in the Intrust Super Cup eventually led to three NRL games in late 2018 and he did not disappoint.

Although opportunity may not be forthcoming immediately, he will have the chance to stake his claims in reserve grade.

Should he continue to play like he has in the past and prove himself, further opportunities may not be too far away.

NRL News Predicted Team

  1. Connor Watson
  2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
  3. Tautau Moga
  4. Jesse Ramien
  5. Edrick Lee
  6. Kalyn Ponga
  7. Mitchell Pearce (C)
  8. David Klemmer
  9. Kurt Mann
  10. Tim Glasby
  11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
  12. Sione Mata’utia
  13. Aidan Guerra

14. Herman Ese’ese
15. Danny Levi
16. Mitchell Barnett
17. Daniel Saifiti

Coach: Nathan Brown

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