The Newsroom previews each team for the 2015 National Rugby League season. Today, the Newcastle Knights.
The two time premiers have a new look to them this season. A new coach and a new owner equals a fresh start for the Hunter based club who will look to replicate their 2013 form which saw them reach the preliminary final. Will a new coach result in new fortunes for the Knights?
Last season – 12th
In: Sam Mataora (Canberra Raiders), Tariq Sims (North Queensland Cowboys), James Taylor and Carlos Tuimavave (New Zealand Warriors), Marvin Filipo (French Rugby), Jack Stockwell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Out: Darius Boyd and Travis Waddell (Brisbane Broncos), Adam Cuthbertson, Michael Dobson and Josh Mantellato (English Super League), Matt Hilder (retired), Zane Tetevano Timana Tahu, Matt Minto and Toka Likiliki (released), Brayden Wiliame and Willie Mason (Manly Sea Eagles), Chance Peni (Wests Tigers)
Strengths: Hunter Stadium gives the Knights a home field advantage. The vocal Newcastle crowd bleed red and blue and are some of the most passionate fans in the competition. The Knights will need to capitalise on that intimidation factor to secure as many points as they possibly can since they only won four matches on the road in 2014.
Weaknesses: Newcastle have lost the strength and experience of Boyd, Mason and Cuthbertson and will mostly need to rely on the youngsters to carry the team this year. They started poorly last season, losing 12 out of their first 14, and will be at risk of doing the same this season.
Key player: Knights’ half Jarrod Mullen always enters the new season with high expectations. Yielded with the responsibility of carrying the team, the 27-year-old has been inconsistent in the past few seasons. A stellar performance in the 2013 season helped his side to the preliminary final and put his name back into Origin contention. But an injury plagued 2014 saw his form drop as Newcastle finished low on the ladder. Rick Stone will need him at his best if the Knights are going to trouble the bigger sides this year.
Coach: The 48-year-old Rick Stone is about to begin his second stint as Newcastle head coach and has an even bigger point to prove this time around. Stone made way for Wayne Bennett and spent the past three years under his wing. With two failed seasons within that spell the former Fijian national coach is back and is hoping to bring glory back to the Hunter. He needs to get the best out his young players, especially the Mata’utia brothers and if he can do that his team can mix it with the others.
Prediction: 10th – Chris Matthews-Darby
Top photo from Naparazzi’s Flickr photostream.