Newcastle Knights

Newcastle’s season started so brightly, yet ended in tears, as the club collected the wooden spoon after finishing last.

Despite a backline that featured an all NSW-rep back three, a future Origin centre in Gagai, and the ever improving BJ Leilua, not to mention the trio of Mata’utia brothers, the Knights never lived up to their promise.

Kade Snowden and Dane Gagai aside, the Knights players struggled to make any sort of impact following round four.

The disastrous season saw a club hero called upon, as another club favourite was stripped of his coaching job.

For a side to finish last after leading the competition after a month, something has to go horribly wrong. Unfortunately for the Knights, EVERYTHING went wrong.

Season Highlight: Winning their first four fixtures to top the table

As it was happening, very few people could believe it. The Knights opened their season with four straight victories, including a 16-14 away win in Townsville over eventual premiers the Cowboys, and topped the table.

Opening the season with a 24-14 win over the highly fancied Warriors had plenty of fans full of optimism that life post-Bennett may not be so bad after all.

Who could ever forget the banner held up by Knights fans asking how Bennett’s team faired following a big first-up loss to the Bunnies, while the Knights put the Warriors away?

Close wins over the Titans and Panthers had some experts looking a little worried, as most tipped the Knights to miss the eight.

The Knights were the stars of the opening month of the competition, at least results wise.

Season Lowlight: Everything after round 4

I would have liked to have kept this to a defining moment, but after winning their first four fixtures, the Knights only managed to win four further games all season.

The combination of horror form, bad lack, and head-scratching coaching, saw the Knights collect an unfortunately well-deserved wooden spoon.

Rick Stone, who was unlucky to lose his job to Wayne Bennett, was up against it from the start, although his decisions certainly did not help his cause.

His constant reshuffling of his side meant the players could never form combinations. His refusal to show any faith in Sione Mata’utia stunted the future superstar’s development.

Despite Joseph Tapine’s encouraging time in first grade, he was constantly overlooked for journeymen backrowers approaching the end of their careers.

It’s hard to pinpoint the true lowlight of the season for the Knights, but a 52 points to 6 drubbing at the hands of the Rabbitohs certainly stands out.

Star Player: Dane Gagai

Dane Gagai was one of very few players who managed to hold his form throughout the majority of 2015. Kane Snowden was arguably the only other player to lay similar claim.

After a few rough seasons, Gagai finally fulfilled his promise in 2015, earning an Origin jersey in the process.

An experimental move to fullback didn’t really work for the Origin winger, who looked far more at home in his more natural centre spot.

Despite being linked with many other clubs, his re-signing for two-years at the Knights repaid the faith shown in him by the club.

Most Disappointing Player: Take your pick

Sione Mata’utia suffered the most severe case of second year syndrome I have ever witnessed, while Kurt Gidley offered very little in his last season in the NRL.

Tyrone Roberts form saw him fall from Newcastle’s first choice halfback to surplus to requirements in very little time.

Despite these players underperforming, no player had a season as disappointing as their former wrecking ball winger Akuila Uate.

The former Origin star looked all at sea in 2015, and become the butt of many jokes online due to his horror performance under the high ball.

His hands let him down massively in 2015, while his trademark speed and power looked gone.

Hopefully for Knights fans it was purely a lack of confidence, or at worst a bad season, but toward the end of the season, Uate’s only real contribution was to keep players in better form in NSW Cup.

Uate, at his best, is one of the most destructive wingers in the game. 2015 was not kind to the 28 year-old, but on the plus side there is plenty of time for him to turn it around.

Future Star: Jake Mamo

After playing well in the season-opening Auckland Nines, it was quite a shock that it took the Newcastle brains trust so long to hand Mamo a first grade spot.

Although plenty of players around him failed to deliver, his performances provided some glimpse of hope that there is a bright future.

Some would say his antics have overshone his obvious talents in his early career, but his competitiveness cannot be questioned.

Mamo has the speed, power, aggression and talent to hold down the Newcastle number one jersey for a long time to come.

It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him and Sione Mata’utia firing in 2015, but Knights fans can look forward to 2016 and what that potential combination could produce.

Best Signing For 2016: Trent Hodkinson

The current NSW halfback was surprisingly allowed to head north from the Dogs, and you do get the feeling that Belmore’s loss is the Hunter’s gain.

Hodkinson did not enjoy a brilliant 2015, but there is little doubting his talent, and his combination with Jarrod Mullen will go a long way to righting the wrongs of a 2015 to forget for both the Knights and Hodkinson.

Mullen has long been looked upon to guide the Knights around the park, as well as provide the spark in attack.

Hodkinson’s arrival should allow Mullen to play a more focused game, and should bring out of the best in both halves.

Outlook

The Knights recruited a big name halfback, but failed to add anything of real excitement otherwise.

They did manage to re-sign the likes of Mamo, the Mata’utia brothers, Snowden, Levi and Gagai.

Gidley, Roberts and Scott headline the “outs” of the Hunter, but to be honest I believe both club and player will benefit from a change of scenery, in all three cases.

There is plenty of talent in both the backs and forwards within the Knights squad, and their NSW cup side just captured the state title, so the future isn’t all bad.

Nathan Brown has come on board as head coach, and brings with him a winning mentality after success in England.

He was the best option available, so the Knights have given themselves the best chance to succeed.

With the likes of Hodkinson, Mamo, Mullen, and co. providing plenty in attack, Brown has plenty of weapons at his disposal.

2015 was a dark season at the club, but it may be worth enduring in the long run.

Season Grading: F

Despite their amazing start to the season, no side could ever be happy finishing last and collecting the dreaded wooden spoon.

If anything, their early season form should further disappoint fans in the Hunter, as 2015 was really a season of what could have been.

Rick Stone struggled to get the best out of his players, and paid for it with his job.

Nathan Brown has come on, and Trent Hodkinson has been signed. 2015 was not a total loss, but it is not a season that will be remembered fondly by fans of the club.