Post Mortem : Newcastle Knights

Knights 2003; A season of rebuilding and learning to play without Joey.

I read an interview with Shane Webke in the paper a few months ago that had a quote from the big man that really sums up the end of season for the Knights. He said ?a lot of things have to go right for you to win a premiership.? A lot of things started to go right for the Knights as the end of the season was approaching. Our forward pack was coming together after a season of injuries and suspensions. Our backs were starting to find form with guys like McDougall and Hughes winding back the clock. But most of all, our halves were looking like becoming the best combination the Knights have put on the field for many years. Kurt Gidley was improving every game and Joey was in rare form, easily leading the Dally M count despite having had six points deducted and serving out a two week suspension. In the end, one unfortunate tackle to Joey and the season was basically over before the great revival had even got off the ground, but the boys who were left did the Knights proud with good wins over the Warriors, Saint George and a competitive game against Canberra before dropping their bundle in the first knockout game.

During the season the Knights debuted ten young players, mostly forwards, out of the thirty who played first grade this season. Players who played some first grade games last year and left in the off season include Billy Peden, Julian Bailey, Jarod O?Doherty, Clinton O?Brien, John Morris, Neil Sweeney, James Wynne, Daniel Quinn and Justin Ryder. All those players were on the fringe of first grade and most were getting on in years. This year that crew were replaced with our debutants in Matt Kennedy, Reegan Tanner, Andrew Price, Craig Hall, Todd Bates, Luke Quigley, Todd Lowrie, Michael Ennis, Gavin Quinn and Blake Mueller, most of whom are aged between 18 and 21 (Hall and Quinn are a bit older) and have years of improvement in them. All in all, the Knights have lowered the average age of their squad by several years this season and have set themselves up for years of improvement.

Highlights of the season for Knights fans were;

The try by Matty Parsons early in the season. I think it is fair to say the Knights cost themselves the minor premiership last season by trying to get the big fella over the line every time they got a good lead in a game. In the end they finished 11 points off the minor premiership and must have dropped at least 20 points trying to get Parso over the line, so when he scored his first, and probably last, try for the Knights in an early game this year, every Knights fan cheered for the big guy, and breathed a sigh of relief that the monkey was finally off the back.

The win over the Broncos at their new home ground. Before that game the Broncos were in good form, and the Knights had had a pretty average start to the season. It was the first starting game for the new Knights halves combination of Johns and Kidley, and the side clicked and caused one of the upsets of the season, and recorded the Knights first win over the Broncos in Brisbane (this was before SOO, so both sides were close to full strength).

The last second win over the Dragons at EAS. That game was one of the most exciting ever, with Kurt Gidley and McDougall combining in the dying seconds to level up the score with a great try, and Joey kicking a sideline conversion after the siren to win the game.

The first half performance against the Cowboys in Townsville. I think it is fair to say that this was the only 40 minutes of football where the Knights really put it all together all season, and they scored a halftime record number of points in NRL history. It was attacking football at its best, and something we must do much more of next season.

The form of Knights players in SOO I and II. Just about all our guys did us proud again in the rep games. Johns, Kennedy, Buderus and Matt Gidley were the standouts.

Overall, it has been a disappointing season as regards results, but we have lowered the average age of our squad by several years to the point where we now have one of the youngest squads going around, and we can look forward to years of improvement in our performances because of the ?cleaning out? of the older fringe players. In one game this season we fielded the youngest pack in NRL history and our Premier League side had an average age of less than 20 for much of the season and included as many as seven 18 year olds in some games this year. The senior team put together a few good wins without Johns, which has proved to be a big psychological barrier for the boys in the past. It has been a year of rebuilding and learning to perform without Johns. Roll on next year.

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