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A season with so much promise was dealt several body blows before a
ball had even been kicked in 2010 for the Newcastle Knights. Despite
making the finals for the first time in several years in 2009, the
Knights were some experts tip for the wooden spoon. The Novocastrians
continued to fight every step of the way in 2010, claiming some handy
scalps before eventually missing the finals.
When Danny Wicks was arrested and charged with possessing drugs just before Christmas last year, it would mark the beginning of a dark cloud that would hang over the club for the whole of the 2010 season. It would be through none of their own doing, but many Knights players would be subject to allegations of being linked to Wicks and his drug network. A matter of weeks before the opening round of the competition, the club suffered another significant hit when Chris Houston resigned. Such was the swiftness of Houston's decision to part ways with the club, the Knights were in no position to attempt to cover both spots on the playing roster with similar-type players and subsequently would have to fast-track and unearth some talented youngsters into the first grade squad.
With those drug allegations still hanging over the club, the Knights ran out onto ANZ Stadium in round one and came up with one of their best performances of the season against the Canterbury Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were amongst one of the pre-season favourites and to claim such a scalp so early was a promising sign for the Novocastrians. Young Fijian flyer Akuila Uate opened his try-scoring account and it would be a sign of things to come as he equalled Timana Tahu's all-time try scoring record over the course of the year, finding the line 21 times. A matter of seven days later, the Knights would race out to a commanding 14-0 lead over the Melbourne Storm, only to suffer what would become the norm throughout the season and leak points at a worrying rate when the game was there for the taking. It would be one of many games decided by single-figure margins that would ultimately cost the Knights a finals spot.
When they were good
It's difficult to go past their victories over Brisbane - the first time since both sides came into the competition where the Novocastrians were on the right end of the scoreboard on both occasions. The 30-22 victory over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Round 8 would be one of the very few times when they would defend their line with purpose and refuse to concede points after trailing 22-12 at the break. What was more surprising was the fact it was six days after arguably their worst performance of the season at Toyota Park. Later in the season when the team were playing with a freedom not seen since the days of Andrew Johns, the red-and-blue faithful were treated to a 44-18 hammering of the Broncos, not to mention a 32-14 victory over Manly and a thoroughly impressive 30-6 demolition of the Bulldogs.
When they were bad
The Round 7 trip to Toyota Park was the most disappointing. It's not uncommon for the Knights to lose in the Shire, but the way in which it was done was all the more disappointing for the faithful who made the trip down the F3. At the time, the Sharks were sitting in last position with one hand on the wooden spoon, but proceeded to whack the Knights fairly around the backside and send them back up the freeway looking for answers.
The most embarrassing defeat without doubt was the 52-18 capitulation in the Nation's Capital. At one stage the Raiders were outscoring the clock as they raced to an astonishing 52-0 lead after just 48 minutes. It was a type of performance that even the most ardent Knights fan would have been forgiven for switching the television off at this point. Only for the Raiders deciding enough was enough did the Knights manage to score the final 18 points of the game, as their club-record 71-6 defeat to the Broncos in 2007 loomed large.
When they could have been better
There were several games scattered throughout the year that would emphasise the Knights lack of composure when the game was up for grabs. The Easter Monday Miracle, as it could be dubbed, saw the Knights explode out of the blocks and lead 24-6 just after halftime, only to concede a try right on full-time and suffer a heartbreaking 34-30 loss to the Panthers. Several weeks later it was a case of Deja Vu, but this time it was the Titans turn to break the hearts of the Novocastrian faithful. Despite a refereeing error costing the Knights a fair try when they led 30-22, the Titans would register a remarkable 38-36 victory.
Where to in 2011
Despite many pundits' predictions of the Knights struggling to be a force once again, it is not all doom and gloom in the Hunter. The acquisition of Dragons' duo Neville Costigan and Beau Henry, alongside Steve Southern, Siuatonga Likiliki and Kyle O'Donnell will give the Knights a sprinkling of new talent they perhaps need. The spine of Kurt Gidley, Isaac De Gois and Jarrod Mullen gives the Knights plenty of cause for optimism. Problems may arise, however, if the inevitable injury count rises as has been the case in recent years and the halfback conundrum facing the coaching staff could well play a major role in determining how the Knights fare throughout the season. The Knights did show glimpses of their ability throughout 2010 to compete with the best teams in the competition; it is just consistency that coach Rick Stone must find a formula for.
Best lineup for 2011
1. Kurt Gidley 2. Akuila Uate 3. Junior Sau 4.Adam MacDougall 5. James McManus 6. Jarrod Mullen 7. Beau Henry 8. Evarn Tuimavave 9. Isaac De Gois 10. Antonio Kaufusi 11. Cory Paterson 12.Neville Costigan 13. Zeb Taia
Interchange: 14. Matt Hilder 15. Dan Tolar 16. Richie Fa'aoso 17. Joel Edwards
Home Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (=10th)
Away Record: 4 wins, 8 losses (=13th)
Best Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 15-18, bye Round 17)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Rounds 2-5)
Players Used: 28
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 86 (13th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 102 (14th)
Top tryscorer: Akuila Uate (21 tries)
Top pointscorer: Kurt Gidley (134 points)
Player of the Year