While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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A new relationship is always an exciting time; whether it's on an individual basis, or as a team and in 2012 the Newcastle Knights will start several new relationships.
Master coach Wayne Bennett takes the reins of the Novocastrians for the first of his four-year term and overseeing the whole process will be new Knights owner Nathan Tinkler and the Hunter Sports Group. While Tinkler took over early on in 2011, it seemed the club were marking time for 12 months down the track. The Tinkler/Bennett relationship will be an intriguing sub-plot to the main storyline - the Knights have a squad capable of winning the premiership in 2012, and while 2013 might be a more realistic goal, rugby league experts have learnt by now not to write off the master coach.
The Knights will need to start the season on the pace; otherwise they could find themselves playing catch-up. After facing Bennett's former club the Dragons to open the season at their newly renamed home ground - Hunter Stadium, they travel to Toyota Stadium the following week to face the Sharks. The Broncos then ride into town, followed by two tough road trips to ANZ Stadium (Canterbury) and AAMI Park (minor premiers Melbourne Storm).
Why They Can Win It
The Bennett factor. He has already won competitions at two other clubs and will aim to be the first coach in the history of rugby league to reach the ultimate success at three different clubs.
Why They May Struggle
The expectation from the Knights faithful could turn into a millstone around their neck, especially if the start to the season is slow. The halves combination of Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen is unknown and while they have youngsters Tyrone Roberts and Ryan Stig ready to step up, how Bennett gets the Gidley-Mullen combination working could be telling.
Player to Watch
Jarrod Mullen. The former NSW State of Origin halfback has had his critics in recent seasons; the main criticism being his lack of consistency. Bennett will look to make Mullen a more consistent performer and if he achieves that, the Knights look top four certainties.
Rookies to Watch
Alex McKinnon. The former Dragon found himself in a tug-o-war with his former club and the Knights, and decided to follow Wayne Bennett up the F3. McKinnon will add depth to the Knights backline and also could play in the back-row if needed.
2012 Roster Changes
Comings: Wayne Bennett (Dragons), Kade Snowden (Sharks), Timana Tahu (Panthers), Darius Boyd (Dragons), Robbie Rochow (Storm), Alex McKinnon (Dragons), Danny Buderus (Leeds), Adam Cuthbertson (Dragons), Daine Laurie (Panthers)
Goings: Keith Lulia (Bradford Bulls), Isaac De Gois (Sharks), Cameron Ciraldo (Panthers), Antonio Kaufusi (Harlequins), Adam MacDougall (retirement), Ben Rogers (retirement), Mark Taufua (Sharks), Steve Southern (Wakefield), Josh Ailaomai (Roosters), Dan Tolar (retirement), Shannon McDonnell (Hull KR), Con Mika (Hull KR)
Best Line Up
1 - Darius Boyd, 2 - James McManus, 3 - Junior Sa'u, 4 - Timana Tahu, 5 - Akuila Uate, 6 - Kurt Gidley (c), 7 - Jarrod Mullen, 8 - Kade Snowden, 9 - Danny Buderus, 10 - Evarn Tuimavave, 11 - Chris Houston, 12 - Zeb Taia, 13 - Neville Costigan
Interchange: 14 - Matt Hilder, 15 - Joel Edwards, 16 - Richie Fa'aoso, 17 - Adam Cuthbertson