Is 2019 the season the Knights return to finals footy?
With Ponga set for a shift into the halves and the addition of David Klemmer, this is their best chance in many years.
James Gavet (New Zealand Warriors, 2020), Tim Glasby (Melbourne Storm, 2021), Hymel Hunt (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019), David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2023), Edrick Lee (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Mason Lino (New Zealand Warriors, 2020), Kurt Mann (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021), Jesse Ramien (Cronulla Sharks, 2020), Zac Woolford (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2019)
Jack Cogger (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), JJ Collins (Canberra Raiders), Cory Denniss (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Chris Heighington (retired), Brock Lamb (Sydney Roosters), Jacob Lillyman (retired), Chanel Mata’utia (released), Pat Mata’utia (released), Nick Meaney (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Dylan Phythian (released), Ken Sio (Salford Red Devils), Luke Yates (London Broncos)
Although Newcastle did not feature in the finals in 2018, they had a much improved season and have brought back the belief in the side to the region.
Nathan Brown’s recruitment had them playing a much better brand of footy and more importantly winning games of football.
Ponga was a megastar in his first full season, while Mitchel Pearce looked reborn after his move north. So to did former Roosters Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Aidan Guerra.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon emerged as one of the game’s best forwards while the other young forwards all improved.
It was always going to be a stepping stone season as such but I think the Knights are ahead of where they thought they would be as a result of their much improved 2018.
Best Signing: David Klemmer
The Knights were looking as though they were heading into 2019 with a very talented forward pack yet one leading a true leader. Then came the massive, mega-money, multi-year deal that landed David Klemmer.
Klemmer is the first prop picked at rep level for both state and country. His talent is very obvious but his experience and aggression will provide a real go forward for his younger pack members.
He, Ese’ese and Glasby will form one brilliant front row rotation with Daniel Saifiti also likely to feature.
Klemmer’s signing looks like the final piece of the finals footy puzzle. The club has spent big, huge, in bringing the prop forward to the club, but he looks set to deliver on every single dollar.
Star Player: Kalyn Ponga
Ponga, despite being just 20 year’s old is already the undisputed king of the Hunter.
From fullback, the superstar almost won the Dally M medal in his first full season in the top grade despite only playing 20 times.
He also made his debut for Queensland, playing big minutes in the defensive line. He almost turned the game, and series on its head when Queensland looked done.
His efforts in the front line against an all-stars Blues outfit, combined with his incredible ball skills, looks to have him moving into the halves for 2019.
The thought of Ponga touching the ball multiple times every set is a brilliant prospect. It will take time to adjust but this kid had aced literally every other question asked of him, so why not this?
Young Gun/One To Watch: Mason Lino
The Warriors will be kicking themselves having let Lino go with the entire Shaun Johnson situation panning out as it did. The Warriors loss is certainly Newcastle’s gain.
Lino is a freakish talent and can play anywhere in the halves or even at nine. Although he won’t push the two megastar halves for a spot, he may find himself playing from the bench.
The Samoa star only has 17 games at the NRL level to his name, which at 24 year’s of age seems almost criminal. Depending on Brown’s plans for Danny Levi, Lino may add games from round one.
Recruitment Grading: A
The Knights have completed, in my opinion, the best recruitment drive of all sides for 2019. They have recruited in big numbers but more importantly, they have recruited quality.
Klemmer’s pedigree is obvious, and the addition of Tim Glasby, himself an Origin prop, will round out a much improved and quite frankly scary forward pack.
Jesse Ramien could prove to be the signing of the season. He had a monster year in the Shire for the Sharks and many have him in rep discussion. Edrick Lee arrives in brilliant form and having formed a combination already with Ramien.
James Gavet may push for a bench spot, Hymel Hunt provides a quality option at centre while Mason Lino looks an absolute gem.
Kurt Mann’s arrival looks to have rounded out the Knights 17 with the former Dragon utility likely to start at nine or play off the bench.
The Knights have spent the past three seasons rebuilding the club and their 2019 recruitment drive has set them up very nicely.
This is the season the Knights finally return to final’s footy. I’m almost certain of that.
A lot will depend on how quickly Kalyn Ponga adjusts to his new role in the halves, although they can always pull the in-game swap to return to fullback with Connor Watson shifting back if it doesn’t start well.
The forward pack looks elite. It’s so good that the likes of Mitch Barnett and Jamie Buhrer may not jag a spot.
The signing of Kurt Mann is interesting. Danny Levi has shown signs of becoming a star in the number nine, but will likely battle Mann, Lino and the soon to be returning Slade Griffin for the jersey.
This is, by far, the most talented Newcastle Knights side I have seen for years.
They have genuine superstars across the park and plenty of more than capable players in supporting roles.
Fitzgibbon and Ramien are players who could feature in rep discussions if they start well, while Ponga has the ability to become of the game’s most influential players.
I can’t see them missing finals footy this season but I don’t see them pushing the top four just yet.