The Newcastle Knights have more questions than answers after the shocking season they had, especially behind the scenes. Big decisions have been made when it comes to their roster and off-field drama.
Barely making the eight in the 2021 season and losing in the first round of the finals again, the Knights find themselves back at square one with building a team to the top.
Questions about the culture, as well as everyone in the club top to bottom, have become the biggest talking points surrounding them this off-season.
Finishing position: 14th (Six wins, 18 losses)
The Knights started the first three games looking appealing to watch.
A new offence allowed Kalyn Ponga to play more effective, shuffling players like Kurt Mann to a more suited position. Dominic Young was showing a lot of upside and potential as a future star winger in the league, and they boasted a forward pack on paper that was deep in depth.
With Andrew Johns working on the offence with head coach Adam O’Brien, it was clear that they made massive changes.
Those changes that did work to a small extent made the Knights slightly improved, despite the win-loss tally, after the 2021 season.
What didn’t work?
The Knights’ discipline and behaviour both on and off the field was well below standard at times, exposing deeper issues than just their poor quality of play at times this year.
Ponga playing at fullback after the first three weeks was not helping the Knights win games.
With a constantly changing spine, it kept the Knights away from truly figuring out how to develop any good chemistry on the field.
Suspensions to Mitch Barnett in the third week of the season for unsportsmanlike behaviour, off-field behaviour from Ponga and Mann, and even David Klemmer having disputes with the trainer, showed the deeper issues that run at the club. From top to bottom, there appears to be an imbalance of power between players and the hierarchy of staff.
With their best players like Bradman Best getting stood down, while Ponga and Jayden Brailey were injured throughout the year, the club was constantly in a difficult situation when it came to team selection.
Trying to put a line-up together week to week that made sense in the style they wanted to play and to cover the pieces that they needed consistently to get through the season proved near impossible.
Dominic Young, who signed from the UK, showed early signs of brilliance, scoring tries in a variety of ways and displaying his speed and size.
Young scored 14 tries in 20 games, had 15 line breaks and averaged 134 running metres per game, showing that he is up to the standard of the current demand of the winger in the current era.
The Knights’ 38-12 win over the Titans in Round 16 was a highlight reel for 80 minutes.
Winger Edrick Lee scored five tries in their 26-point victory, dominating the Titans with their left-edge offence.
The Knights played fast and hard in the middle to open up their success on the edge.
To start the season off, the Knights also defeated the Sydney Roosters, only conceding one try. They played phenomenal defence, to the point that analysts and fans of the game questioned whether the Roosters were even proper contenders to begin with.
They would also beat the Tigers 26-4 very easily, showcasing their ball movement offence and that they are able to put up points in a range of ways, especially when defensive coverages are very poor.
Even the Round 3 loss against the Panthers was considered to be an optimistic performance, for the most part, only losing 38-20 in a back-and-forth game in stretches.
More Rugby League News
- Stephen Crichton arrives early in Belmore
- 2024 NRL Draw: Club by Club analysis
- Penrith Panthers presented WWE title in Aussie first
The Knights would lose seven games in a row s after the first three weeks of the season. They played multiple home games where they would allow their opposition to score 30 points or more without scoring more than 10 points of their own.
The Eels beat the Knights 39-2, and the only reason they had the two points was a result of the Eels giving away a penalty at the start of the game instead of trying to score a try.
Melbourne would also put 50 points on them not long after the Eels game, exposing the Knights’ poor defence in each third of the line.
Top off-season priority:
The Knights need a go-to and consistent spine, possibly testing Ponga at five-eighth and letting someone another player take an opportunity at fullback.
The players’ attitude and behaviour need to be prioritised, especially if they want to play in the finals again and make it further than the first round.
Players’ health has to be pivotal in their off-season work, especially making sure Kalyn Ponga and Bradman Best are fully ready to go for next year, as they have not played more than 15 games in the last two seasons.
Subscribe to our newsletter!