Predicted Finish: 16th
Actual Finish: 16th
Best Performer: Nathan Ross
The charismatic winger turned fullback turned winger really led the way in 2017 for the Knights. He topped the try-scoring tally for the club with 10, and his 11 line breaks were also a Newcastle 2017 best.
Proving that his work went beyond the flashy try-scoring he has become known for, he also made 2854 metres for his side, second only to Dane Gagai who made 2917. Ross played three fewer games than Gagai also, making that number even more impressive. Ross was rewarded for his brilliant form with a well deserved three-year contract extension.
With the likes of Tautau Moga joining next season, it’s likely Ross will see even more opportunities to cross the try line next season.
Season Highlight: Rounds 21, 22, 23
The Knights were able to put back to back to back wins together for the first time in a long time when they beat the Dragons, Warriors and Eels across three weeks. Even more incredible was the fact that the Eels win came away from home.
Across those three weeks, they averaged over 25 points scored and under 12 points conceded. With the greatest of respect, those figures are very un-Newcastle like over the past few seasons. It is this three week period that showed the rugby league world what Newcastle are capable of.
Considering the improvements made roster-wise for 2018, Newcastle fans should expect more than five wins next year.
Best Signing Kalyn Ponga
The Knights have been able to sign some great talent as they continue their rebuild, but none more exciting than 19-year-old Kalyn Ponga. The former Australian schoolboy representative now has nine NRL games to his name including two finals appearances.
His output was affected by his signing for the Knights last season as the Cowboys only called on his services the seven times. His performances across the first six games will have Knights fans rubbing their hands together as he proved what a great pick up he will be.
His attacking flair is something the Knights have missed for many years, and his positioning seems to be years ahead of his experience and age. He has a mortgage on the number one jersey for as long as he wants it, which should provide him with great confidence.
I just hope Newcastle fans can hold back on their excitement and allow Ponga to develop as he is still young and inexperienced, but he has talent in spades. A genuinely game-changing signing.
Big recruitment drive: Newcastle have undertaken a huge turnover of players and look far stronger as a result. Their recruitment drive seems to have focused on value and unlocking undoubted potential rather than throwing massive money at over the hill players.
Although they did miss out on the likes of Jack Bird and James Maloney, they have put together a very exciting, young roster with plenty of potential. Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman and Chris Heighington add valuable experience, while Herman Ese’ese, Tautau Moga and Connor Watson will all slot into the first choice 17. Shaun Kenny-Dowall will also have a full pre-season under his belt. Then there is Ponga, the gem in the crown. Exciting stuff.
Key re-signings: Retention was always going to be just as important as recruitment as it would present a need to almost start over if they were to lose their young stars.
Mitch Barnett, Danny Levi, Nathan Ross and Daniel and Jacob Saifiti all shape as best important players moving forward while Luke Yates, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Cory Denniss, Dylan Phythian and Sam Stone will all play a part.
They really only lost Dane Gagai, and reports indicate they didn’t go overly hard to keep him.
Games under their belts: All of the Knights young guns now have another season under their belt, which can only be a good thing.
Danny Levi played 23 games and represented New Zealand in the World Cup. He shapes as a huge part of the Knights set up moving forward. Brock Lamb played 21 NRL games in 2017, furthering his progress.
Daniel Saifiti played 23 games, his brother Jacob 20, Yates 19, Stone 15, Barnett 21, Fitzgibbon 13. Jamie Buhrer also managed 15 games following his horror run of injuries. He also shapes as very important in 2018 and beyond.
Season Grading: C
Not to understate the amount of effort or work that was put in by Nathan Brown and his players, but the 2017 seasons felt like it was used to build for 2018 and beyond. Young players either made debuts or added valuable experience, while the club’s recruitment team undertook a fierce recruitment drive.
It never really looked like the Knights would avoid a third straight wooden spoon, but to be honest 2017 wasn’t about the result. The performances were vastly improved on the 2016 efforts, and results did follow to a point. They managed five victories in 2017 compared to just the one in 2016.
On paper, five wins won’t get many fans excited, but there is a feeling of real potential in the Hunter.
The club really needs to land that big name, marquee recruit, to truly kick-start their run back to finals footy, but as it stands the Newcastle side heading into 2018 is far superior to anything put out by the side in the past few seasons.
Due to the hard work undertaken to achieve that, Newcastle receives a C grade overall. Knights fans very well may look back at 2017 as the start of something very exciting.