Premiership Odds: (via betting.club): $151.00
Big Outs: Kurt Gidley, Beau Scott
Big Ins: Trent Hodkinson, Micky Paea
Newcastle suffered an awful 2015 finishing in last position and collecting a deserved wooden spoon.
The club has undergone some major changes in the offseason including the appointment of Nathan Brown as coach, as well as the signing a new marquee halfback.
They’re now in a better position for success but looking at their roster it is by far no guarantee.
Although stronger than in 2015, there squad seems to lack punch off the bench especially. Newcastle’s NSW cup side won the competition showing that there may be plenty of undiscovered talent beyond the 17 original man team sheet.
Key Player: Jarrod Mullen
Mullen has been the main man on the Hunter for a few seasons now but unfortunately has been forced to play a lone hand of sorts, despite some solid halves partners.
He only managed 10 games last season after suffering yet another injury set back, but all signs point to him being free of major concern heading into 2016.
Mullen was rushed into the Origin set up but has the talent to one day find himself back in the sky blue.
With a new talented partner in the halves, a coach with plenty of fresh ideas, and plenty of talent out wide, 2016 is set up near perfectly for Mullen.
Young Gun: Jake Mamo
21 year-old Jake Mamo’s performances in 2015 showed he doesn’t lack the talent of confidence to make it big in first grade.
Four tries, two try assists and two line breaks in just nine games at the top level show his attacking abilities, while I can’t think of a young player who was as happy to get involved physically so early in his career.
Mamo looks like an absolute lock for the long-term custodian role on the Hunter and will have plenty of chances to impress in 2016.
He has a very clever half pairing and two dummy halves that will look to make breaks against tiring forwards. He will see plenty of chances and plenty of ball.
Best Signing: Trent Hodkinson
Current NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson will join the aforementioned Mullen in the halves to form the best pairing since the days of Andrew Johns.
His abilities will take pressure off Mullen, pressure the young number six has felt for quite a few seasons now.
Hodkinson, despite an under-par 2015, is an elite halfback with a brilliant kicking game and the ability to find the line.
Mata’utia, Gagai and co. will see plenty of opportunities this season, it’s up to them to take them.
Weakness: Forward pack undermanned
The Knights pack is certainly not the worst in the competition but I wouldn’t say they’re amongst the top packs either.
Kade Snowden is a former Origin and Kangaroo representative but isn’t the player he was during his destructive run at the Sharks that earned him his rep honours.
Tariq Sims is without a doubt the club’s best forward but will again start the season late due to suspension.
Tapine and Smith help form an aggressive back row with Sims, however when they are subbed out the Newcastle bench doesn’t scream impact and intimidation.
Strength: Lethal backline
Dane Gagai is one of the best centres in the competition. I may cop grief for saying that but his 2015 in an ordinary side, was a thing of beauty.
Sione Mata’utia, for his disrupted and disappointing 2015, has all the talent in the world, and will have far better service from Hodkinson and a fully fit Mullen.
Uate, another who had an indifferent 2015, can score tries for fun, and his wing partner Nathan Ross certainly seems like quite a find.
Throw in Jake Mamo and you have five attacking threats that will be running off a halves pairing with Origin experience. Exciting stuff … if they can produce at their best.
1. Jake Mamo
2. Nathan Ross
3. Dane Gagai
4. Sione Mata’utia
5. Akuila Uate
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Trent Hodkinson
8. Kade Snowden
9. Tyler Randell
10. Korbin Sims
11. Joseph Tapine
12. Tariq Simms
13. Jeremy Smith
14. Danny Levi
15. Robbie Rochow
16. Jack Stockwell
17. Mickey Paea
Trent Hodkinson and Nathan Brown’s arrivals ensure the Knights enter 2016 in a better state than they left a horrible 2015 season.
It all comes down to consistency. On their day Uate and Mata’utia are capable of tearing sides apart, but both are coming off woeful 2015’s by their lofty standards.
The Knights have a lethal backline but I’m not sure they have the forward pack to get on top of the majority of opposition packs.
Hodkinson and Mullen have the talent to drive any side to the eight, but they’ll need their big men to muscle up and dominate. I’m not confident that they can do that consistently.