After four long years of re-building, the Newcastle Knights are in a strong position to push for the top 8.
The Knights’ last top 8 appearance was in 2013, when they defied the odds to fight their way to a preliminary final. Nathan Brown has done an admirable job for Newcastle in his three-season tenure, finally lifting them off the bottom of the table last year. However, Brown’s rebuild of the club won’t be labelled a success unless they reach the finals soon and it looks as though 2019 will be the year to do so.
With Kalyn Ponga coming into his own in 2018, the Knights have one of the brightest talents in the game, with the 20-year-old almost snagging the top gong at the 2018 Dally M Awards. Ponga is set for a higher playmaking role this year, moving into the halves alongside experienced halfback Mitchell Pearce who’s guidance will be invaluable.
The Novocastrians were busy in the off-season, making a number of quality signings, adding depth to their squad. Representative front-rower David Klemmer headlines the list of new players which features fellow props Tim Glasby and James Gavet. Coach Brown is also spoilt for choice with his backline. Hymel Hunt, Edrick Lee, Jesse Ramien and Kurt Mann will provide plenty of competition for the outside backs.
The Knights are also lucky to have a wealth of young, talented forwards that have been brought through the ranks and experienced a lot of first grade football since Nathan Brown took over the reins. Daniel and Jacob Saifiti, Josh King, Sam Stone, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Mitchell Barnett and Pasami Saulo are all talented forwards who have garnered enough experience in recent years to try and nail down spots in the starting 17.
Newcastle undoubtedly have their weaknesses and will have many challenges to overcome throughout the season. Connor Watson has only started four NRL games at fullback, where he is set to play this season.
Ponga will be under pressure in the No.6 jumper with more play-making expectation hanging over him. It appears as though Danny Levi will be the Knights’ no.9 to start 2019 but his consistency as a starting hooker will be tested.
The Knights are in for a big season if they play their cards right. The fitness of both of the halves will be crucial in achieving consistent, non-disruptive performances. Mitchell Pearce’s absence was sorely missed when he was struck down by injury early last season and any long injuries to either Ponga or Pearce will make a big dent to the finals hopes of the side.
However, the club have incredible depth in the back-line and forward pack; the best they’ve had in years and it’s enough for them to compete against the top teams again and return to being amongst the top teams after languishing on the bottom for so long.