Newcastle Knights - 2013 Preview
THERE'S little doubt the Newcastle Knights 2012 campaign was a disappointment; some critics may even say a failure, but the lessons learnt over the course of the season should ensure the players will not repeat the same mistakes this year.
Since 2001, success at Turton Road has been rare with the club winning just one finals match in 11 seasons and the Knights faithful are growing increasingly impatient but 2013 gives Newcastle a chance to surge up the table.
Another year under the tutelage of Wayne Bennett combined with another pre-season under the mastercoach, the 2013 Premiership tilt promises plenty.
The Knights showed glimpses of top-four quality football last season but this was offset by some sub-standard performances - sometimes over the course of the same game - and coach Bennett will not accept similar efforts in 2013.
The Novocastrians lacked forward depth in 2012 and Bennett went about rectifying that problem with the acquisition of former Shark Jeremy Smith, former Dragon Beau Scott and David Fa'alogo returns from a stint in the English Super League.
These three signings give Willie Mason some much needed help in a forward pack which has a more intimidating feel to it. Kade Snowden will look to rediscover his 2011 form at the Sharks which earnt him a sky blue jumper before a back injury was to blame for his disappointing 2012 season. This now-aggressive forward pack should help provide the platform for halves Jarrod Mullen and captain Kurt Gidley to link with their outside backs.
In another plus for the Knights they welcome back Kurt Gidley from a shoulder reconstruction after he played just eight games in 2012 before a tackle on Clint Newton went wrong, leaving Gidley with a dislocated shoulder.
His return after a shoulder reconstruction could be perceived as being another addition to the squad which couldn't quite live up to the lofty expectations of 2012. Gidley's leadershipand energy should not be underestimated.
Where they can win it
Even a coach the calibre of Wayne Bennett wasn't enough to guide the Knights into a semi-final position last year. Premiership-winning sides have good forward packs and this is somewhere the Knights have struggled in recent seasons. Throw in Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott along with possibly David Fa'alogo and the Knights have a pack that won't give an inch as was evidenced in their 18-6 trial win over South Sydney in Coffs Harbour last Saturday which gained praise from Rabbitohs forward Mick Crocker.
Out wide the combination of Dane Gagai and Akuila Uate on the right hand side gave an indication of what to expect in a handful of games in the second half of 2012. A continuing partnership with Darius Boyd will ensure plenty of headaches for opposition defences.
Where they may struggle
Hooker. Danny Buderus is a champion but he's not getting any younger and it remains to be seen whether he has played one season too many. He'll miss the first month of action and Newcastle will have to rely on the services of Matt Hilder who returns after having a lengthy lay-off in 2012 but was also solid in the trial win over the Rabbitohs last weekend. The possibility of Gidley spending some time at dummy half shouldn't be discounted either after coach Bennett said emerging halfback Tyrone Roberts would be in the 17 for the Round 1 encounter with the Tigers.
Two words: Akuila Uate. The flying Fijian had a quiet first half of 2012 but once he linked up with former Bronco Gagai they formed an almost immediate combination on the right. Uate should be up there in the leading tryscorer stakes again in 2013.
Rookie to watch
21-year-old forward Korbin Sims was the final player to be caught up in the State of Origin selection fight in April last year before pledging his allegiance to Queensland despite being born in Gerringong on the NSW South Coast.
He played for the Maroons in last year's inaugural NYC Origin encounter and was outstanding for the Knights NYC side. He now finds himself in the top 25 squad and don't be surprised if you find his name on the Knights bench throughout the season.
The big plays
With the team a year wiser under Wayne Bennett expectation has been replaced by a sense of nervousness among the red-and-blue faithful. Will young halfback Tyrone Roberts unseat skipper Gidley from the #7 jumper?
The club was also caught up in the ACC report but maintains its innocence. How much of an impact, if any, will it have on their season?
Likely team Round 1 vs Tigers (home)
1. Darius Boyd 2. James McManus 3. Dane Gagai 4. Timana Tahu 5. Akuila Uate 6. Jarrod Mullen 7. Kurt Gidley (c) 8. Kade Snowden 9. Matt Hilder 10. Willie Mason 11. Jeremy Smith 12. Beau Scott 13. Chris Houston
Interchange: 14. Tyrone Roberts 15. Adam Cuthbertson 16. Alex McKinnon 17. Zane Tetevano