The Newcastle Knights managed to fight their way into the top eight last year, but it could be a longer season this time around unless they can turn their attack around.

Mitchell Pearce is gone, but how will the Knights react?

Here is their full season preview.

2021 season

Newcastle comfortably secured a second straight finals birth in 2021. That was an easy pass mark. They were competitive against the Eels in Round 1 of knock out footy. Another tick.

The Knights game was built on the back of the Saifiti boys, David Klemmer and Mitchell Barnett bashing teams up the middle, creating space for Ponga, Pearce and co to take full advantage.

Jayden Brailey was magnificent in his debut season for his new side. One of the club's best recent signings. Brodie Jones had some real highlight moments.

2021 was a brilliant building block toward a fruitful future. Unfortunately it ended with the club releasing their halfback.

Off-Season Moves

2022 gains
Adam Clune (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2023), Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2024), Krystian Mapapalangi (2023), Leo Thompson (2023), Chris Vea'ila (2023)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Adam Clune of the Dragons takes on the defence during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

2022 losses
Blake Green (retired), Josh King (Melbourne Storm), Mitchell Pearce (Catalan Dragons), Gehamat Shibasaki (Rugby union), Starford To'a (Wests Tigers), Connor Watson (Sydney Roosters)

Recruitment Impact

Dane Gagai is a big in. He immediately strengthens the Newcastle centres, which were a point of contention all 2021. His experience should rub off on his centre partner Bradman Best.

Adam Clune is a handy pick up. He'll most likely start the season in the number seven jersey.

Unfortunately for Knights fans they've lost their best number seven in Mitchell Pearce as well as a star utility in Connor Watson.

They start the season in a weaker position than last season. A star centre is brilliant but at the cost of a star halfback. That will never add up in your favour.

NRL Rd 3 - Knights v Wests Tigers
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Michell Pearce with his team during the round three NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 28, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Talking Points:

Forward march: Newcastle boast a brutal forward pack. They are massive and they are aggressive. David Klemmer found new life coming off the bench in 2021. He reacted exactly how coach Adam O'Brien would have wanted.

Daniel Saifiti has firmly established himself as an elite prop. His brother Jacob had a career-best season. Throw in Tyson Frizell and the criminally underrated Mitch Barnett and it's no secret what the game plan will continue to be in 2022.

Point problems: It will discussed throughout, but how the club replaces Pearce will be key to how their season goes. Gagai and Best should cause plenty of trouble for defenders out wide, but I just don't see where the points come from. Ponga can only do so much. Clifford has a brilliant head on his shoulders but plenty of pressure to go with it. Outside of Ponga, three of the top four best players are in the engine room. They may need to win games 18-10.

Bradman Best?: This has to be the season. Bradman Best has every single attribute you could want in a centre. He is a powerhouse, a tackle-breaking machine with speed and a nose for the line.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 15: Bradman Best of the Knights is tackled during the round 22 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights at Moreton Daily Stadium, on August 15, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

At times last season, I had to check the stats to see if he was on the park. Whether that be the side simply aren't looking to him enough or he isn't making himself known, that has to stop in 2022. Bradman Best needs to be fed as much ball as he can possibly handle, and then some.

Key player:

Kalyn Ponga
Ponga has been the Knights "go to" player for the past few seasons. His importance grows further following Mitchell Pearce's exit and Jayden Brailey's injury.

Rightly or wrongly, Ponga cops criticism when the Knights aren't winning, while receiving huge praise when they're winning. My guess is he best get used to that this season.

I don't like saying this, as league is a team game, but if Ponga doesn't have a career-best season then Newcastle aren't playing finals footy.

He's one of the game's elite players and instantly improves those around him. Thankfully, he looks to have avoided the distraction that is a huge contract offer from the Dolphins. Newcastle fans need him 100 per cent on the job week in and week out.

NRL Rd 15 - Knights v Cowboys
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 23: Kalyn Ponga of the Newcastle Knights runs the ball during the round 15 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the North Queensland Cowboys at McDonald Jones Stadium on August 23, 2020 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Big season for:

Jake Clifford
The 24 year-old steps up into the hot-seat, thanks to the departure of Mitchell Pearce. He immediately becomes the dominant and experienced half.

Heading into the trials it looks as though Adam Clune is his likely partner, although Kurt Mann is an outside shot at shock selection.

No matter who slots in beside him, the hopes of the Knights firmly hinge on the performances of Jake Clifford. He and Ponga pretty much have to put this side on their shoulders when it comes to creating chances.

Clifford enjoyed a brilliant start to his Knights career. His talents indicate he is up to the task but it's a big ask for a young seven turned six.

Breakout star:

Dominic Young
Enari Tuala and Hymel Hunt will likely form the Round 1 wing combination for the Knights but I would be very surprised if we don't see plenty of Dominic Young in 2022.

By his own admission, Young did not enjoy the brightest start to his career in the NRL. He's more than young and talented enough to turn this around.

With the greatest of respects to Hunt, Young's upside looks to be far superior. If he can cut the mistakes out and deliver on his promise, he'll be on the wing sooner than later.

Gagai and Best have a mortgage on the centre spots but it is Young's job to put as much pressure on them to perform if possible. He'll get game time and see a huge improvement on his 2021.

Watch Rugby League Outlaws discuss Newcastle in their Season Preview

Fixtures to watch

Round 4 vs Cronulla Sharks: Newcastle's recent form against the Sharks is very good. They seem to just find a way to win, in the final minutes on most occasions. This is a big trip as by Round 4 we should know what both sides are about. Ponga vs William Kennedy is mouth-watering while the Saifiti and Klemmer vs Dale Finucane Finucane and Toby Rudolf clash is worth the price of admission alone. Both teams with finals aspirations clash early on.

Round 7 vs Parramatta Eels: There are fewer greater sights than a full GIO Stadium in the sunshine. This game kicks off at 2pm and should see a bumper crowd in attendance. The Eels bring plenty of star power, including an all-star forward pack. Klemmer and co have to be at their very best to see off the challenge from the visitors. The aforementioned home support should provide some extra motivation.

Round 16 vs Gold Coast Titans: Truthfully neither team looks a top-four hope just now, but they both have genuine expectations of Final's Footy. Your best bet to play finals is to beat those sides around you. This result could prove instrumental at the business end of the season. Both teams enter 2022 with an experienced halfback and no clear first choice nine (with Brailey being injured). This poses as a brillant clash on what should be a cold Friday evening in the Hunter.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: David Klemmer of the Knights takes on the defence during the round 6 NRL match between the Titans and the Knights at Cbus Super Stadium on April 21, 2019 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


I'm still not 100 per cent sure what the thinking behind allowing Mitchell Pearce to head to the Super League was. With no obvious replacement, and with the reported Luke Brooks deal failing to eventuate, it's risky at best.

Throw in a potentially season-ending injury to stay number nine Jayden Brailey and unfortunately the Knights become way too over-reliant on one player.

They have a wonderful forward pack. I say wonderful in the sense that it is intimidating, brutal and will cause nightmares for opposition packs.

Newcastle boast an all-star centre pairing. That said, Bradman Best needs to improve on his 2021. Dane Gagai's signing should help with that.

Truthfully I just can't move past the lack of creativity, or experience, in the spine. Clifford is a potential gun but was moved on from a struggling Cowboys side. Ponga is a genius but can only do so much.

Adam O'Brien has a big season on his hands. Luckily he has a squad very capable of playing Finals Footy. That being said, there are 10 better sides than them right now.