We’re officially halfway through the season previews, with this one, the 8th, to be all about the Newcastle Knights and their chances as well as the things/situations that may test them.

For the Knights in 2012, it was meant to be a special season being their 25th season in NRL/NSWRFL competitions, but that was not the case, however – as not even Supercoach Wayne Bennett in his first year with the club could get the players gelling together well enough, their season not helped by the season-ending injury to captain Kurt Gidley.

As the 2013 season gets closer and closer, the return of a fully fit Gidley is a bonus for the Knights side, with the captain keen to not only get stuck into things once more, but also to help his side to what they hope is a successful 2013 season.
Set to play at halfback this year and with questions always being asked as to whether he is suited to playing that role, he will partner up with Jarrod Mullen in the halves – a player who when in form is a top five-eighth, but when he’s out of form, it plays a telling part in the Knights overall performances.
With Gidley at the helm in pivotal role of halfback and often a calming influence, the veteran may be able to get the best out of Mullen in 2013, as they both look to have consistent seasons this season.

When it came to the transfer market, the Knights were quite busy in both their buying and selling of players, some transfers more telling and influential than others.
Veteran players Richie Fa’aoso (Manly), Wes Naiqama (Penrith), Zeb Taia (Catalan Dragons), Evarn Tuimavave (Hull KR) and Junior Sa’u (Storm) all departed, but to replace those departed players – all of whom were Knights favourites, the club brought in players that can hopefully fill the void.

Such players include Jeremy Smith from Cronulla, Beau Scott from St George, Anthony Quinn from Melbourne, Joseph Leilua from the Roosters and David Fa’alogo from Huddersfield.
Now boasting one of the best packs in rugby league, the Knights will be looking to start their games with vigorous enthusiasm and aggression, in order to garner a hold of the game allowing the likes of Gidley/Mullen to then take over and set up points for the club.
Perhaps the key out of their recruits in my view, is that of Jeremy Smith – deemed as a hard-running, hard-nosed aggressive back-rower, Smith is coming off quite a decent year at the Cronulla Sharks in 2012 and will be looking to emulate that in his first season at the Knights.

A major sticking point that will also dictate how the Knights go in 2013, at least in the early rounds of the season, is who will step up at hooker with Danny Buderus out for at least 4-6 weeks with injury.
With young Travis Waddell previously gunning for a spot, one that now looks unlikely given his probable departure elsewhere – the role now falls into the hands of veteran utility Matt Hilder and Chris Adams, who in rugby league terms, is still a bit of an unknown.
Whilst a veteran of the game and pushing his mid 30’s, Buderus is a player that will give his all every game and despite his age, he’s quite active in both attack and defence for the Knights.
The key for his replacement, whoever that may be, is to attempt to have a similar effect on the game and be prepared to potentially play for 80 minute periods until Buderus returns.
Personally, I’d give Hilder the nod, given his experience.

Whilst not a sticking point as such, Knights fans will be seeking a lot from fullback Darius Boyd and expecting a big season from him, following previously inconsistent seasons.
Boyd, who took his game to another gear following the Origin period last year, will want to start with that same intensity and ascendancy early on in the season, in order to give the Knights the best chance of winning games.
When in form, Boyd is a dangerous fullback not only when he runs the football back but also with the ball in hand, often able to link up with the halves and backs down the left hand side of the attack, producing points.

He had great success in such back-line movements during his time at the Dragons, so the Knights will be hopeful that 2013 can be the year he has similar success and get himself more involved in the game, whether it’s scoring or tries or creating opportunities to set them up.
If Boyd can get his head in the game early on in the season and produce the form we know he is capable of, he may move back into the echelon of the top fullbacks in the game – an accolade that when in form, he deserves to be a part of.

Any Knights season preview would not be complete without mentioning Willie Mason.
Given a chance by Wayne Bennett during the 2012 season to return home to Newcastle, Mason took it, and he did not disappoint.
Playing with hunger, intensity and ruthlessness that we hadn’t seen from Mason in a while, he finished the season as perhaps the Knights best forward, putting in performances that Bennett would have been proud of, and performances that can leave Willie holding his head up high.

Performances like that in 2013 will go a long way to not only setting the platform for the Knights in games early, but it may well, potentially, put Mason in the frame for a potential NSW Origin spot – something that he still has aspirations of doing, should the opportunity arise.
Regardless of what one thinks of Mason based on what has happened in the past, it cannot be denied that the resolve he has shown to bounce back is now paying dividends, evidenced by his solid year last year – something that he will seek to emulate in 2013.

All in all, I think the key for the Knights is getting the required consistency out of their halves (both Mullen and Gidley), not to mention the forward pack gelling together quickly and setting the aggressive tone in games early, in order to get a good start to the year.
Should their captain in Gidley get injured again (something that any NRL fan hopes is not the case), the Knights will need to find a way to win without their inspirational leader, as they look to improve on their 12th place finish last season.

They have the team and the weapons to make the 8, they have the best coach in the game at the helm – it’s simply a matter of producing the required on-field results.

On a final note, two players I think that everyone should look out for in 2013, are Dane Gagai and Korbin Sims.
Gagai, who left the Brisbane Broncos last year following some indiscretions, became a revelation at the Knights, linking up well with veteran winger Akuila Uate and producing the sort of football that we all know he’s capable of. If he can have similar success with Uate on that side, it will be an area that the Knights will look to exploit against teams.
Finally, Korbin Sims. The younger brother of Cowboys duo Ashton & Tariq, Korbin is a monster of a kid and it shows with his performances, as he physically dominates opponents and is incredibly hard to bring down and stop. Coming off a stellar year with the Knights NYC team, if injuries should hit the Knights forward pack, it’s very possible that he will be given an opportunity, one that he will gladly take.

1. Darius Boyd
2. Akuila Uate
3. Timana Tahu
4. Joseph Leilua
5. Dane Gagai
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Kurt Gidley
8. Wille Mason
9. Matt Hilder
10. Kade Snowden
11. Chris Houston
12. Beau Scott
13. Jeremy Smith

14. Neville Costigan
15. Alex McKinnon
16. David Fa’alogo
17. Zane Tetevano

By ricky

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