Pool: Rangitoto Pool (Storm, Tigers, Knights, Broncos)
Squad: Jamie Buhrer (c), Peter Mata’utia, Ken Sio, Brendan Elliot, Nathan Ross, Cory Denniss, Brock Lamb, Jaelen Feeney, Daniel Saifiti, Danny Levi, Jacob Saifiti, Mitch Barnett, Luke Yates, Tyler Randell, Jack Stockwell, Sam Stone, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Nick Meaney, Sione Mata’utia (Emergency Player)
vs Wests Tigers (11:50am Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Brisbane Broncos (3:45pm Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Melbourne Storm (10:40am Feb 5 AEDT)
Jamie Buhrer will don the red and blue for the first time this weekend at the Auckland Nines, beginning his career as a Novocastrian with the captain’s armband. Buhrer will lead a fairly young squad in the pre-season tournament as Newcastle look to put a horror month behind them.
In the space of a few weeks, Jarrod Mullen has been suspended indefinitely for drug use, Pauli Pauli was involved in a career-threatening car crash, Korbin Sims was released and Rory Kostjasyn suffered a training injury that will see him out of action until April. The Knights are looking to turn their luck around this weekend, naming a squad featuring fifteen players with NRL experience.
Of those fifteen, a third of them debuted just last year. Brock Lamb is one of those men, and will have a big task on his hands in 2017 as the favourite to claim Mullen’s five-eighth role. While Mullen is a big loss for Newcastle, his injury troubles in recent years have opened the door for Lamb, Jack Cogger and others to be blooded, a massive boost for the Knights after his suspension.
Who To Watch: Nathan Ross. Newcastle’s biggest danger man at the Nines in recent years has been Jake Mamo, but following his departure to the Super League, Ross will be the man to step up as the club’s premier speedster. Ross scored some cracking tries in 2016, not to mention his ‘high vault’ try against St George Illawarra, and is sure to pull it off again in the nine-a-side format.
Why They Could Win: Second Phase Play. A stack of youngsters will deliver a heap of energy to the Knights, with their outside backs sure to cash in. The Saifiti brothers both have a handy offload in their arsenal, and with the likes of Ross, Ken Sio and Peter Mata’utia sniffing around the middle of the park, their support play will be crucial. The longer Newcastle can chuck the ball around, the more likely they are to find gaps in the defence.
Why They Can’t Win: Self-belief. After the shocking 2016 the club endured, as well as the last month, morale isn’t expected to be over the moon in Newcastle. A one-win season is sure to provoke doubts from the players over their own personal game, as well as the team around them. If Newcastle are to do any damage this tournament, they’ll need to make it over the mental hurdles before the physical ones.
Prediction: Newcastle have an aura of unpredictability around them. Will the 2016 Knight’s team turn up, and will they buy into the old ‘new year, new team’ mantra? A side bursting with energy, Newcastle could absolutely fire at this tournament… or they could flop. To be safe, let’s say somewhere in between, with the Tigers just pipping them for a Finals spot.