Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Relieved Newcastle captain Danny Buderus admits he had no idea how the rebuilt Knights would go in Saturday night's NRL opener against Canberra.
No-nonsense coach Brian Smith put the broom through the club last year as it confronted the post-Andrew Johns era and saw his popularity nose-dive as much of the local league talent was shown the door.
That meant five players - Wes Naiqama, Chris Houston, Matt Hilder, Richie Fa'aoso and Danny Wicks - making their club debuts on Saturday night and all played prominent roles in the Knights' enthusiastic 30-14 win over the Raiders at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
"I was like the fans, I didn't know how we were going to go," Buderus said.
"I was like them, just a little excited about what we were going to put out there in 80 minutes and we got some really tough stuff and good defence, the new buys went really well.
"I think the crowd will build on that and the town will start talking about what we did tonight."
Smith, who answered most questions at the post-match media conference in a single sentence or less, said his side's kick/chase had been an indicator of their attitude.
"(It showed) fitness, enthusiasm which is awesome," he said.
"It was all about attitude, getting off the mark and playing a team like Canberra which prides itself on attitude, and we sort of matched them in that area."
Naiqama scored a try with his first touch for his new club while beefed-up backrower Houston created problems on the edges and big boppers Wicks, who also scored a four-pointer, and Fa'aoso provided muscle from the bench.
"I was a nervous wreck before the game but once I got out there and saw how many people were there to support us, it really pumped us up so it felt real good," former St George Illawarra centre Naiqama said.
"The main things as Brian said is just to be patient, not to expect miracles.
"We obviously want to be peaking at the right time come October so we're building towards October."
Naiqama's veteran centre partner Adam MacDougall said the side's cohesion would take time.
"We're probably four to six weeks away from feeling comfortable with each other," he said.
"You just have to look at the trial matches, the teams we rolled out in the trials were totally different ones to the one that played tonight.
"It's felt weird ever since I've come back (here from South Sydney last year). I was expecting to be playing with a lot of faces that aren't here any more so it's been a little bit of a change, it's been hard to get used to."
The downside for the Knights was the loss of Test forward Steve Simpson for a likely six weeks with a medial ligament tear, the extent of which will be assessed by an MRI scan on Monday.