The Newcastle Knights fans and management will be demanding success in 2021. Anything short of a top four finish will be considered a failure.
A respectable 7th place was achieved in 2020 but the Knights were not a threat to the teams placed above them.
After an aggressive recruitment program over the past three seasons, Newcastle have a squad capable of challenging for a premiership.
The last piece of the recruitment puzzle is New South Wales and former St George Illawarra forward Tyson Frizell. He joins Adam O’Brien’s team attempting to push the Knights to reach the heights of previous premiership winning teams of 1997 and 2001.
To do so, the Knights will need to improve on their consistency. At times over the past two seasons they have fallen away for periods, resulting in losing streaks. To do this they need to find a halves partner for Mitchell Pearce.
Multiple players have been used. They were even desperate enough to sign Blake Green mid-season from the Warriors last year. Unfortunately, Green suffered a season-ending injury just as the Knights had found some form with his inclusion.
The lack of stability in the halves and attacking options has meant Kalyn Ponga has had to carry the attack on his shoulders. Although he is a special talent, when you go to the well too often the element of surprise disappears.
Pearce also needs to step up this year. He is now 31-years-old and is in the final year of his contract, this may be his last chance to win another premiership. His time at the Knights has been for the most part, consistently good, but consistently good isn’t enough to win premierships.
If he can establish a good partnership in the halves he has a formidable forward pack and a good backline to play off him. The Knights squad is very balanced across the park, to the credit of Newcastle's management they have recruited very well.
The return from injury of Jayden Brailey will sure up the hooking duties with Connor Watson and Kurt Mann able to deputise when needed.
One player who will be burning for the season to begin is prop David Klemmer. Most were very surprised the Knights hard man was over looked for Origin selection. Klemmer will be keen to prove those selectors wrong.
His partner in the front row Daniel Saifiti was arguably NSW's best performed forward in a losing side in the Origin series. Saifiti is improving each season and is primed for a huge 2021.
If the forwards can lay the groundwork it will allow the backs the space to attack. If Ponga can be given space he will rip defences apart with his bag of tricks.
However, it is imperative that the Knights don’t just rely on Ponga magic to get them through. Far too often in his time with the Knights the players around Ponga have sat back in tough games, hoping their star fullback wins the game for them.
The Knights unveiled some great young talent in 2020 who will only improve in the years to come. Bradman Best and Tex Hoy looked very impressive. Starford To’a and Brodie Jones will also be given more opportunities.
To improve on 7th position in 2020 the Knights will need to cement their spine. The inability to have stability in their spine was a big reason the Knights fell away from being true contenders last season.
They have depth with their squad and a star player with Ponga. The signing of Frizell tops up an already established and impressive pack. The continued growth of the young talent like Best and Hoy should push the Knights into true contention for the 2021 premiership.
With the incredible support the Knights receive from their home fans, if they can get off to a good start to the season, Newcastle will be hard to beat.