during the round 11 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Penrith Panthers at McDonald Jones Stadium on May 21, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia.

2018 Season Preview: Newcastle Knights

2017 saw a big improvement on 2016 yet ultimately saw the Knights collect a third straight wooden spoon. Newcastle were far more competitive across the season than in years gone by and can see 2017 as a building block/stepping stone to much bigger things.

Nathan Brown has shown he is the man for the job and has improved his players. Plenty of talented youngsters were either given debuts, or wracked up some important games during the 2017 season. Brown led a fierce recruitment drive and targeted some game changing players.

Most of the talk for 2018 will be about the ‘ins’ and there are some exciting players plying their trade a few hours north of Sydney in 2018, but the efforts of some of Newcastle’s players in 2017 should not be lost.

Mitch Barnett is a genuine work horse with real talent. Sione Mata’utia has turned into a clever back rower and once his injury concerns are over will be a real weapon. Dani Levi improved out of sight and now has four international caps to his name. Nathan Ross has emerged as one of the game’s most exciting players. I can’t wait to see him with more ball in hand as a result of a new halves pairing.

Recruitment Grading: A

The Knights needed to attract a superstar to supplement their otherwise clever recruitment drive, and they achieved just that when they announced New South Wales halfback Mitchell Pearce. Pearce will partner former Roosters teammate Connor Watson in the halves, with future star in the making Kalyn Ponga rounding out a third improvement in the Newcastle spine. Tautau Moga is also a huge get out wide, while Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman and Herman Ese’ese are big ins up front. Chris Heighington will add valuable experience coming off the bench. What looked like a good recruitment drive turned into an excellent one with the signing of premiership winning halfback Pearce.

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Star Player: Mitchell Pearce

For all the fun we have at his expense at rep level, Pearce is a quality halfback. The Sharks and Manly chased him hard but ultimately Newcastle presented him an opportunity to cement his legacy. Frozen out by the Roosters, Pearce will be looking for a monster 2018. Playing beside former Roosters teammates Watson and Guerra will make the switch easier, but the Knights need to allow their star to settle in. Armed with weapons like Ponga, Moga and Ross, there is plenty of cause or excitement on the Hunter. Pearce will be the Knight’s general, something they haven’t had for many seasons. His kicking game is first class and will allow Newcastle to dictate where and at what pace the game is played moving forward. He’s arguably the most valuable signing for 2018. Newcastle fans can, rightly, expect a lot. It’ll take time but no doubt this is a special moment for the club’s future.

Strength: Attacking weapons

For the first time in a long time the Knights have a list of weapons in the back line. Ponga, Kenny-Dowall, Ross, and Moga will likely make up four of the back five positions with Watson and Pearce in the halves. Throw in a more experienced Levi and the likes of Guerra, Buhrer and Mata’utia and the Newcastle side start to look far more dangerous than in years gone by. The Knights have struggled in defense for as long as I can remember so the likes of Lillyman, Guerra and Heighington should be able to take the defensive pressure off the smaller players allow them to focus more on attack. Things are positive for the red and blue.

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Weakness: Inexperienced spine

For all the undoubted talent possessed by Kalyn Ponga, Danny Levi and Connor Watson, they’ve only played 9, 49, and 38 games at NRL level respectively. Most of Watson’s games would have come from the bench, while Levi hasn’t played 80 minutes too often either. Pearce’s arrival will surely quicken the process but fans need to be patient. Errors will be part of their game, errant passes and kicks will happen, and only games together will help them built to what they want to achieve. Opposition teams will know the Knights will look to Pearce in pressure situations and will target him. Watson especially doesn’t need to over play his hand too early.

Prediction: 9th

I see a massive improvement from the Knights in 2018 but I just can’t see them making finals football just yet. I think if they can recruit another star or two moving forward they’ll see plenty of finals footy in years to come but 2018 may be a season early.

Pearce is a genuine game changer. Without the star halfback it’s likely Newcastle would be in the bottom five but his arrival means a great deal. Connor Watson is an early pick for young signing of the year. This kid is a genuine freak.

If Watson isn’t, then Ponga may very well be. Arguably one of the most talented young players, and certainly one of the most exciting, Ponga has every skill imaginable. His efforts for the Cowboys were incredible considering he debuted in a sudden death final, out of position no less.

Get excited Knights fans. 2018 will be a bumper season. Moga will score plenty, Ross will run riot, and Ponga and Watson will set the competition alight.

It’s just one season too early to be talking finals footy just yet.

36 COMMENTS

  1. I said ‘what’s the Mata’utia.’ She said ‘its flat.’ I said ‘do you have a spare?’ She said ‘Sione the one.’ I said that’s all you need.’

    • I said; “Stay away from the carrots that have been sprayed with pesticide Rabbits! And I keep telling you those strange 3 leafed plants with the pointy edges aren’t lettuce!”

  2. Knights will probably fall into the 11th to 9th category in the battle for a spot in the 8 that happens every year. While they have made some great buys and have a solid team heading into 2018 that still lack the experience of being a team together.

    Best player: Watson
    Best buy: Watson
    Finish: 10th

      • How do I have no clue? Watson is a talented young running 6 who I believe will have an excellent season for the Knights and will be their best buy. Geez you can be a tosser most of the time.

        • Holmsey, for what it’s worth, i agree with you opinion that Watson could be the buy of the year for Newcastle, I rate this guy highly andi feel that they will finish around 9th 10th but you never know.

        • penso, I really think the Knights will threaten the top 8. Just on their recruitment and the roster they have and the way that Brown had the Knights playing near the end of 2017.

          The Knights had a 3 game winning streak towards the end of 2017 (Round 21 – Round 23) when they beat the Dragons, the Warriors and the Eels (2 top 8 teams!) They beat the Eels who finished 4th by 19 points! This run of form showed indications of what the Knights are capable of under Brown. That was BEFORE the addition of Pearce, Guerra, Watson, Ponga, Moga, Heighington, Lillyman and Ese’ese. Did I mention that the Knights beat the Eels by 19 points? 😉

        • And that the Knights have also signed Pearce (current NSW HB), Guerra (QLD SOO) and teenage sensation Ponga. All stiff competition for the “Best Player” and “Best Buy” awards wouldn’t you agree? Holmsey is entitled his opinion though even though I think Watson for both is a long shot, behind Pearce and Ponga at least.

        • Yeah but in my “opinion” key word. Telling me I have no clue and being a tosser is not the way to go about telling me he has a different opinion. As I was saying its my preview and my view on a clubs season. Not the factual one, its just my opinion and my opinion is that I have liked what I have seen from Connor Watson and I think he will be a great buy and player for them. Long term I still believe Ponga has the biggest upside if he lives up to his potential.

        • No need to explain mate. Your are entitled to your opinion without the burden of proof. I rate Watson. He is a talented young kid who is yet to reach his true potetial.

          You may yet be proven to be correct. It is definitely more of a long shot IMO but that doesn’t make you wrong.

      • Your statement that Watson is there Best Buy proves you don’t have a clue ! If you ask Knights fans who there Best Buy is I can guarantee you Watson would be low on the list , your opinion matters , mine matters it’s whether you can argue that point that has final say , it’s like me saying Hayne is Parras Best Buy , plenty would question that ,

        • You just have to be a duck don’t you, telling me I’ve got no clue is you at your finest. While others manage to be friendly on here you continue to prove how incapable you are of just being a normal person and showing that bit of respect. I’ve moved on, you seem to still want to force those fights by telling people they are straight up wrong and have no clue. For your information I know 3 knights fans and while they think ponga will be the Best Buy long term they all think Watson will be the surprise packet and have a great year beside Pearce where he flourished and be one if not the Best Buy for the year for the Knights in 2017.

        • You don’t have a clue , you stated that Watson is there Best Buy ! That’s not an opinion that’s a clear statement, how did you come to that crazy conclusion? How did you ? What made you say that ?

        • You’ve made many statements here Holmsey, and if I can’t tell you you haven’t a clue , you get all gooey then here 🏆 for you , I forgot everybody wins , everybody gets a trophy and we don’t keep score , well if you keep coming in here with those ludicrous statements expect to be challenged

        • its no different to me stating DCE is a hooker , instead of challenging me with a good argument you simply say we have API ! or throw in some biased stat, harden up princess

        • Its my preview and prediction, Iam not treating it as a fact, just an opinionated prediction. I was reasonable just the other day with you about DCE and yet you still ramble on about it, for the record I presented that I believe DCE should and always will be a Halfback and I didnt see the point of getting rid of Api who is an elite hooker of the game, one of our star players. You just always want to fight people then act as though your the victim.

        • Most missed tackles in 2017
          API 123
          Maloney 121
          Most errors of 2017
          Turbo and Ado Carr 37
          Semi 36
          Elite hooker ? Really ! Eat those stats Holmsey

        • What you think a couple of stats proves your right about a couple of players? No offense but thats hilarious😂

        • I just hope young Connor Watson has not done a Tuivasa-Shreck on himself and left a strong club where he has a great chance to win a premiership to a side that has no combinations and will perform at best around 7th to 10th. He could be regretting the move north of Sydney come grand final time if the Roosters can improve by one more week in this years competition to crack a grand final appearance and a possible premiership.

        • But surely WoodChook the Chooks had to let some players go for appearance sake at least? You wouldn’t want to have a squad of 50 players now would you? That would be hard for even “the Teflon Don” to explain away, surely?

        • rt. The big hefty nurse missed me while in reception so I shall post this last comment and sneak back to beddie bys. Come on SSTID_1970. Manly had two first grade sides in the 1970’s full of internationals that’s when they had the 13 import rule. That means every team could buy one entire team only. less the two reserves they had to be local’s Manly had Chris Close and Ray Brown running around in reserves with steve Martin or Johnny Gibbs. Us Roosters have only got about 18 players of first grade standard.

        • SSTID_1970 January 24, 2018 at 10:19 pm
          It’s a bit rough of Nurse Ratched not to let you finish your sentence. She could have at least let you finish your “T” WoodChook. “It’s a Madhouse! A MADHOUSE!!!”

          I hope at least she has warm hands. You don’t want to get frost bite when she applies the catheter! LOL 😉

        • You are right WoodChook. For a while there Manly had almost the full Australian team playing for them. Then in the early 80’s during the reign of the Eels and the Sea Eagles they divided the Australian team between them. The Roosters and the Dogs got the best of what was left and so on until Souths got the scraps off the table until 1988/1989. We should have picked up No. 21 in 1989 WoodChook and No. 22 in 2013. Oh well, 2014 was sublime and SO much closer than 2013.

  3. The team to watch this season, will upset a few top 8 side. If they miss the finals it will only be just…I’d say 9th.

  4. I am really looking forward to watching Newcastle play this year. They are not my team, but all their new signings have created quite a buzz. Their first choice team is strong and the last three years has helped them develop some depth with experience. Newcastle fans deserve some wins. However, I have to agree that although there will be definite improvement, I cannot see any finals this year.

    • I don’t expect them to start the season strong Jonno, combinations take time, especially when you have recruited almost a full team of new faces but I will be surprised if the Knights don’t finish in the top 8 by the end of 2018. You can certainly put your house on them avoiding the wooden spoon for the 4th year in a row.

  5. Great to see them get some more talent and it will be interesting to see all the new combos go around this year.

  6. Knights die hard here, we have no pretensions to be 2018 champion, a 9th position will make us very happy fans, we are looking forward to some good games and some good wins.

    • I think the Knights will have a good year in 2018 and should get into the top 8. If they just miss in 2018 they should be there for sure in 2019. The Knights fans have suffered long enough, time for some other club to fill the cellar. The Roosters like their wine and the cellar might be the perfect place for them to keep their bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2008.

  7. Think ninth is a fair call.Id probably say seventh or eight and most likely at parras expence.Think alot will be talking Brown up as a coach in 8 months.Begining last season i was saying Brown and Barrett will end up good coaches and i was laughed at.

  8. On paper Newcastle will make the eight. That prediction is from a fan of the Newcastle Knight’s feeder club The Roosters.
    Next season’s Newcastle team will look something like this if Andrew Johns is still at the Roosters
    1 Ponga
    2 Ferguson
    3 Ross
    4 Moga
    5 Kenny-Dowall
    6 Watson
    7 Pearce
    8 Napa
    9 Friend
    10 Lillyman
    11 Guerra
    12 Cordner
    13 Tuakiaho

    Please Nick Politis sack Andrew Johns the Knights Recruitment officer

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