The Newcastle Knights were able to solidify their 2020 performance with another trip to the NRL finals in 2021. Here is the club's season review.
Pre-season predicted finish: 8th
Actual finish: 7th
Record: 12 wins (-143)
2021 Season Snapshot
2021 was, first and foremost, about building upon their long-awaited return to finals footy from 2020. They achieved that by some margin from the chasing pack.
The big three up front in Daniel Saifiti, Jacob Saifiti and David Klemmer set a brilliant platform for the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce, Kurt Mann, Jayden Brailey and later on Jake Clifford.
Newcastle struggled for points in 2021. They scored 138 less points than the next worst of the top eight finishers. In fact only the last placed Bulldogs troubled the scoreboard less.
At times I genuinely believe the Knights forgot they had the weaponry of Bradman Best out wide. They certainly played like it.
Star player: Daniel Saifiti
This very easily could have been brother Jacob as the Saifiti twins stood head and shoulders above the rest in the Hunter in 2021.
Daniel averaged bang on 150 metres per game across his 20 appearances. He also chimed in with three tries, 15 offloads, 25 tackle breaks and tackled at just under 94 per cent.
Meanwhile Jacob averaged 105 metres with three tries, two offloads, 29 tackle breaks and tackled also at just under 94 per cent.
A monster effort from the brothers Saifiti. Daniel edges it due to the increased run metres per game. If Jacob started more games I dare say this may have gone the other way.
All Run Metres
Breakout star: Brodie Jones
23-year-old Brodie Jones doesn't have the profile, or the stats, of some other breakout stars in 2021 but he was so important to the Knights all season.
The ultimate Mr Fix It, Jones made 22 appearances this year. He played multiple positions off the interchange bench whilst filling in at centre and in the back row as a starter on multiple occasions.
He was the best player on the park in their early-season win over the Sharks.
Across the season he crossed for three tries, made five line-breaks, laid on two line-break assists and tackles at almost 94 per cent. Impressive numbers for a youngster once seen as a "bit part" player.
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Another finals series: After a long finals drought, the Knights have now recorded back-to-back finals appearances. Do not underestimate how important it is for players to build finals experience.
Ponga, for all his brilliance, only has two finals games to his first-grade resume. So too does young Jayden Brailey. Clifford isn't a veteran either.
I understand that the atmosphere wasn't what it normally would be come finals time but the pressure certainly was.
This always a looked a season where they seemed a side capable of finishing from sixth to tenth. To finish, comfortably, in the finals is a big win considering.
Halves solution: Jake Clifford's arrival has finally answered the question as to who will partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves for the Knights.
Blake Green was a stop-gap option last season. Kurt Mann always felt similar in early 2021 while the Ponga experiment at six looks as though it will be left in 2020.
Clifford's boot became an instant weapon upon his arrival for the red and blue. He is such a good footballer who was gifted an extra half season in the Knights set up due to an early release.
Ridiculously the other half of the equation in Pearce looks to be linked away. Finally, the Knights have the combination right for the 2022 assault. Stick with it.
Another finals failure: The Knights qualified for a second straight finals Series yet recorded a second straight finals exit in Week 1.
In both games (this year vs the Eels, last year vs the Rabbitohs) they scored a try inside the opening minute. You couldn't ask for a better start.
Although they weren't blown out this year, as they were in 2020, they also didn't really look like a team who could do much damage if they had advanced.
Newcastle are certainly in a building stage but this Knights outfit have a real Sharks 2019-2020 feel about them. They're better than the chasing pack but fodder come finals time.
Point scoring difficulties: As mentioned earlier the Knights really struggled to score points. To score less points than everyone other than the lowly Bulldogs is a sad state of affairs.
The Titans finished eighth with a -3 differential. The Knights finished -143. There were only five sides with a worse differential.
The positive here is that no one will remember this come next season as ultimately the Knights played finals footy.
The downside though is I severely doubt the Knights will make it three in a row with such a poor point-scoring record next season.
Season grade: C+
2021 is certainly a pass mark for the Knights. Id argue they were well worth their spot in the eight, although they record probably suggests they relied on luck.
A Round 12 win over the Sea Eagles aside they struggled to test the better sides in the competition.
Newcastle only had the two big wins which somewhat explains the horror point scoring differential. When they won, they won close.
Unfortunately, they were often blown out in losses.
There is plenty to work on for Adam O'Brien and his staff to work on across the off-season but they can do so knowing they have a platform of two straight Finals appearances and a 12-12 season.