Pre-Season Prediction: 7th
Actual Finish: 11th
– Coaching situation settled: To the Knights’ credit, they made a tough call re their coaching situation and they made it quickly.
Nathan Brown helped rebuild the club but truthfully never looked capable of taking then to that next level.
The decision was made early enough to move Brown on that the Knights were able to put the man they wanted in charge with a full off-season to prepare for 2020.
Adam O’Brien arrives with huge wraps after a successful tenure as an assistant coach for the all-conquering Roosters.
O’Brien has been given the keys to the club and should be backed completely. Great appointment.
– All Origin front row: The Knights invested heavily in bringing David Klemmer to the club. They wanted his metres and they needed his experience.
He rewarded them with 160+ metres a game and tackled at over 96% efficiency. He became a real pack leader and despite a few silly moments, had an impressive season.
His fellow run-on prop Daniel Saifiti was a shock inclusion in Origin Two (and then three) and really improved as a result of the experience.
The 23-year-old joins rep regular Klemmer to form an all Origin forward line in the Hunter.
– Ponga 6 Experiment: The Ponga shift into the halves was expected to bring about incredible results.
Instead, it stunted the Knights’ start to the season and dented Ponga’s confidence.
I applaud the risk taken by Brown. If it had come off the Knights are a much better side.
That said it just didn’t work and the Knights were left without an obvious choice at six.
Watson, Lino and Mann were tested but none hold the upside of a successful shift by Ponga.
– Recruits Fail To Fire: Jesse Ramien was a high-level recruit, expected to be in the Origin discussion.
Unfortunately, his signing did not bring with it the results expected, with Ramien taking leave from the club before being released to return to the Sharks.
Edrick Lee was in brilliant form but suffered an injury that derailed his season.
Tim Glasby and James Gavet did not lift the pack as was expected. Mason Lino and Kurt Mann were bit part players.
The Knights recruited well but unfortunately, the expected results just didn’t eventuate outside of Klemmer.
– Missed finals (again): Much was expected in the Hunter in 2019, including a return to finals.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Yet another year went by without the Knights playing finals footy. It ultimately cost Nathan Brown his job.
A side containing Pearce, Ponga, Klemmer and a more than capable supporting cast really shouldn’t miss finals. Truthfully they were out of the race, a long way out.
– Nathan Ross retirement: On a personal night it was awful to see fan favourite Ross’s career come to an end before his time.
Star Player: Mitchell Pearce
Before diving into his season with the Knights, 2019 is the season in which Pearce finally ended his Origin hoodoo.
For Newcastle, Pearce had a monster season and topped his clubs tally in the Dally M count with 18.
8 tries, 13 try assists, 15 forced dropouts and 17 line break assists Pearce was huge in attack.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the support in the halves required. He really couldn’t have done much more himself.
Season Grading: D
I feel a D grading may be a little harsh here but nothing short of a finals appearance was going to obtain a pass mark.
The roster put together by the Knights’ brass had more than enough talent to be right in the finals race but fell far short.
Pearce was incredible, Ponga had his moments, Klemmer was a beast and the likes of Fitzgibbon and Saifiti provided more than enough support.
Whether it was bad coaching, a lack of talent, bad luck with injuries, or all the above, the Knights just weren’t good enough.
They missed the finals by two games, mainly due to the inability of the Broncos and Sharks to really push clear.
Nathan Brown moved on, the club cut ties with Jesse Ramien and underperformers have been moved on.
It’s a huge off-season coming up for the rookie coach but he’ll be looking to put the club’s 2019s failures behind them in a hurry.