What a season 2019 was SUPPOSED to be.
The season that long-suffering fans wearing red and blue could finally kick back, sip their champers and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Ponga and Pearce would finally be given the weapons they needed to rack up scores and bank competition points.
Big crowds could enjoy a monster forward pack, led by rep mainstay David Klemmer, belt their way through opposition defences to allow King Kalyn to reign supreme. He was the shortest odds Dally M medal favourite I’ve ever seen.
Nathan Brown, the man who was chosen to lead them back to the promised land of finals footy, would finally be given the credit he deserved for seeing the Knights through the worst NRL season of all time.
One week out from finals footy … and the Knights won’t be there.
Nathan Brown has been tapped on the shoulder and didn’t even see out the season.
Mitchell Pearce spent more time in the headlines for pre-season reasons and his unlikely yet ultimately successful Origin recall, and Mr Ponga won’t finish top 25 in the Dally M medal count.
Instead Ponga’s name has been in the media requesting $1.5 million a season. He’s even used the Rugby Union card to play up his next contract, supposedly. How much of that is true and how much is agent talk, I suppose we’ll ever know.
Oh No Newcastle …
Last week I wrote that sacking the coach isn’t always a quick fix. I 100% stand by that, but I also agree that there was a need for change in the Hunter.
Jesse Ramien, a young man on the rise, moved to the Knights to be closer to his daughter. He came from the Sharks, who for all their (let’s call them) errors of the past, have formed a close bond within the playing group. One which allowed Ramien to be himself and develop his amazing footballing ability.
The culture in Newcastle, rightly or wrongly, did not match young Ramien’s needs. This has seen him return to the Shire.
A number of star players made the papers for incidents in the pre-season. I wasn’t there so I won’t comment, but the fact is these made the media. Distraction!
Nathan Brown seemed like he had spent most his week preparing funny quips for media sessions. Judging by the 10 and 13 record the Knights have with one fixture to go, he doesn’t look like he was working on game plans or set plays.
It’s literally the last round of the NRL season and the Knights still don’t have a preferred 17.
The Knights have two NSW bookends in Klemmer and Saifiti running out this weekend. Behind them is a player I had in my NSW bolters category in Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Add in Maroon Tim Glasby and the always hard working Mitch Barnett and that’s a quality pack of forwards.
NSW rep Mitchell Pearce in the halves. Arguably the best young fullback in the game in the custodian role.
Strike centre in Ramien. SKD on the wing. He brings amazing try scoring ability and hundreds of games experience. Plenty of finals experience too.
Mata’utia has played for the Kangaroos. Guerra was a QLD mainstay for a decent period of time. Even Buhrer has rep experience.
Yet here we are, about to kick off in the final round of the NRL season and Newcastle are exactly no chance of playing finals footy, unless there’s four teams busted overnight for salary cap rorts.
That’s a sad state of affairs for a side I almost named 4th in my pre-season predictions.
Not only is this a brilliant example of why you shouldn’t take too much notice of pre-season predictions, but also an example of what can go wrong in professional Rugby League.
Nathan Brown has paid the price for the poor results with his job but the likes of Ponga, Pearce, Klemmer and co need to take a good, hard look at themselves as to why they’re in the position they are.
It’s never fun seeing a side capable of so much fall short. Unfortunately that is exactly what has happened yet again for a fan base desperate for success.
The one positive is that they didn’t let their coaching appointment drag on for weeks or even months.
Everything is settled as we head into the off-season.
This is a little copy and paste from this time last year, but next year, for the Newcastle Knights, there simply are no excuses.