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Few clubs can look back on a split second and lament what might have been had fate not cruelled them, like the Newcastle Knights.
The Knights had made a bright start to 2004 with impressive away wins against defending premiers Penrith and the Storm in Melbourne. But on one fateful night at Parramatta Stadium, the Knights premiership hopes were torn apart, with a season ending knee injury to champion halfback Andrew Johns. It was a sad sight seeing ?Joey? wheeled off in a medicab, knowing how much the Knights needed his brilliant playmaking skills and leadership. The Knights were also hurt by injuries to Ben Kennedy, Steve Simpson and Timana Tahu for extended periods in 2004.
While history shows that the Knights missed the eight, they must be given credit for how they initially handled such a massive setback. Despite a 2-48 thrashing at the hands of St.George-Illawarra, the Knights rallied to beat the Warriors in Ericsson, thrash the Bulldogs at home and score a famous golden point victory over the Broncos at Suncorp. The inexperienced Knights were playing above themselves, with Kurt Gidley kicking the field goal in extra time to beat the Broncos and warming to the task as Johns? replacement.
Just when the Knights were looking in good shape as a top five team after 11 rounds, the representative season began and the Knights performances and results gradually declined. Energy Australia Stadium was no longer the fortress of previous years, with the Knights losing at home to teams they were expected to beat, such as Melbourne, Cronulla and in an agonising extra time loss to North Queensland.
The Knights failed to establish the necessary consistency to make the eight. Their gritty 2 point loss with only 12 men to the Dragons in Round 24 was preceded by a 10-48 capitulation to lowly Manly, and followed by a 6-52 savaging by the Bulldogs.
The Knights finished the season on a positive note, sending club stalwarts Robbie O?Davis (retiring), Matt Parsons (retiring) and big Ben Kennedy (Manly) out winners with a courageous 26-16 win over a Wests Tigers team who needed to win to make the eight.
Stand in skipper and world?s best hooker Danny Buderus enjoyed one of his finest seasons in one of Newcastle?s worst of the last decade. ?Bedsy? won the Dally M Player of the Year and was captain of the NSW State of Origin team which defeated Queensland 2-1 in the Origin series. Buderus continually tried to lift his side with his busy dummy half work and impressive work rate in defence. Buderus will be relieved to be playing alongside Andrew Johns again next year, to take the pressure off him.
BEST WIN: A tie between the Round 1 win over defending premiers Penrith, when Johns was still playing and the golden point win over the Broncos at Suncorp. Considering Johns only played 3 games, the golden point win was probably a more celebrated achievement in a season where the odds were against Newcastle.
WORST LOSS: With a finals spot in sight in Round 23 the Knights were terrible at Brookvale Oval against a Manly side who had been humiliated 12-72 at Penrith the week before.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: The Knights are delighted that Andrew Johns has decided to stay in Rugby League despite offers from Rugby Union. If ?Joey? remains healthy then the Knights can still be a contender. The departures of Tahu, Kennedy and retirements of O?Davis and Parsons place a lot of pressure on the youth to develop quickly. With Ned Kelly look alike Kirk Reynoldson the only notable signing, the Knights will probably still be a peripheral force in 2005.
Match Records 2004 ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium WON 20-14 2 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park WON 36-26 3 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium LOSS 34-38 4 St.George-Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium LOSS 2-48 5 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium WIN 34-20 6 Sydney Roosters Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 22-32 7 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 18-19 8 South Sydney Rabbitohs Energy Australia Stadium WIN 24-8 9 Bulldogs Energy Australia Stadium WIN 32-6 10 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium WIN 17-16 11 BYE 12 Melbourne Storm Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 18-28 13 Parramatta Eels Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 16-18 14 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 6-30 15 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 4-48 16 Manly Sea Eagles Energy Australia Stadium WIN 56-12 17 Cronulla Sharks Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 26-34 18 BYE 19 Brisbane Broncos Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 12-16 20 North Queensland Cowboys Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 24-28 21 South Sydney Rabbitohs Aussie Stadium WIN 31-22 22 Canberra Raiders Energy Australia Stadium WIN 20-14 23 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval LOSS 10-48 24 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 22-24 25 Bulldogs Telstra Stadium LOSS 6-52 26 Wests Tigers Energy Australia Stadium WIN 26-16
10 WINS, 14 LOSSES. FOR: 516 AGAINST: 617 POSITION: 10TH
Newcastle Knights ? 2005 Player Movement
Gains: Kirk Reynoldson (Melbourne), Dustin Cooper (Melbourne), Jesse Royal (Penrith), Kurt Hancock (Bathurst St Pats), Grant Wooden (Wynnum), Dane Campbell (Brisbane Easts).
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist