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Likely squad: Milton Thaiday, Brian Carney, Kurt Gidley, Matt Gidley, Brad Tighe, Jarrod Mullen, Andrew Johns, Craig Smith, Danny Buderus, Josh Perry, Steve Simpson, Clint Newton, Daniel Abraham.
Interchange: Luke Davico, Adam Woolnough, Reegan Tanner, Kirk Reynoldson.
Andrew Johns. I don?t believe any more explanation is required after mentioning the name of one of this era?s greatest players. If Johns remains fit, and that is a big IF for Andrew, then there is no telling what the Knights are capable of.
I believe if Michael Hagan went with the starting line up above he?d have great success. Jarrod Mullen is one of the best prospects to come through Newcastle and he needs to play an entire season under Johns to make him reach that extra level. He is a talented young man with a huge future and the move to centres for Kurt Gidley will do him and Newcastle the most amount of good.
The Knights last season went through a tough time, but in doing so blooded a lot of young players. Hence one of their strengths this season will be their depth, with players like Dustin Cooper and David Seage not getting a run.
The Knights have a solid 1,6,7,9 combination. They have two of the worlds best at 7 and 9, and two young exciting players at 1 and 6 who showed their potential last season. With these players on the field at the conclusion of last season, it was showed that they can compete at the top level and they will be needed so much this season.
The recruitment of Brian Carney, rated by good judges to be the best winger in the world, is a critical one for the Knights. While injury prone, he has the ability to finish off a try from anywhere on the field and his ability will be shown once he has Andrew Johns feeding him the ball.
The Knights don?t have a great coach in the engine room. While Michael Hagan may have been a QLD coach, I don?t believe he is the best tactician in the NRL and his gameplans are rather easy to figure out. His lack of creativity does not bode well for Newcastle this season and may cost them a premiership.
The Knights? injury problems are a concern. Hopefully with the recruitment of medical staff, in 2006 we may finally see an injury free Knights. The key players of Johns, Carney, Buderus and Simpson cannot be injured for great portions of the season, otherwise the Knights will struggle.
One to Watch:
When you ask Newcastle supporters who they feel one of the best prospects is, there is one name that keeps cropping up. That is 19 year old Kade Snowden. A rangy backrower weighing in at 106kg, he is a second rower the Knights supporters feel can finally fill the gap left by Ben Kennedy?s departure.
All through the grades Snowden has been impressive, only a couple of years ago winning Newcastle the SG Ball competition and touring with Australian Schoolboys. He is highly respected in the Newcastle camp and widely regarded as a second rower with a lot of ability and potential to lead the Knights into the future.
His best attributes are his never-say-die attitude, his ball skills and his strong defence, including a shoulder charge that would make Sonny Bill Williams proud. While he got a taste of First Grade last season when the Knights injury crisis was at its worse, he?ll be looking for another opportunity this season to show what he?s got.
Gains and Losses:
Gains: Brian Carney, Luke Davico, Luke Hession, Chris Bailey
Losses: Mark Hughes, Dane Tilse, Craig Hall, Andrew Price, Blake Mueller
I tried hard to find weaknesses in the line up of Newcastle. People can doubt the players? ages, their skill level, etc, but when I look at Newcastle?s team I see balance. I see a well-balanced forward pack capable of matching it with anyone in the NRL. I see a well-balanced backline, one that may not be the most creative, but can finish off a try.
I see a well-balanced halves combination with the mix of greatness and potential and I see a well- balanced bench. However, while I see balance, I don?t see the ability to win the competition. I believe the Knights will make the 8 and I believe they will be well inside it. However, should the Knights suffer an injury to Andrew Johns, balance becomes no commodity any team wants. Every team needs a strike man. Unfortunately for Newcastle, they only have one that has the ability to win them a premiership.
My prediction is Johns to play two-thirds of the season and guide Newcastle to between fifth and ninth.