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Year in Review - Newcastle Knights
LeagueUnlimited.com's Ben Robinson looks at the Knights 2008 NRL season.
Season reviews for The Sea Eagles and the Storm to follow next week.
9th Place - Newcastle Knights
New Team: Whilst season 2008 was Brian Smith's second in charge at Newcastle, it was his first with the team he hand-picked, following last years much publicised clean-out. As many as 15 players either left the club or were shown the door at the end of 2007, with many of them having been regular first graders for many years. As such, 2008 was always going to be seen as a re-building year for the Knights, allowing the new team time to gel and form combinations. By the end of the year Coach Smith was able to take full advantage of the youthful exuberance of his squad, and built game plans that were full of exciting, expansive play that took the ball from the centre of the field and got it out to the fringes where strike players like Cory Paterson, Chris Houston, MacDougall and rising star Junior Sau could wreak havoc on their opposing numbers. Couple that with Kurt "energizer bunny" Gidley chiming in from fullback whenever he sees fit, and there is plenty of reason for Knights fans to be optimistic about 2009.
Injuries: Whilst the Knights certainly were blessed in not having as bad an injury toll as they have in recent years, is was who was injured that mattered most, with many of their senior players missing for large chunks of the season. Danny Buderus and Adam MacDougall both played 15, Steve Simpson only played 12 games, while star recruit Ben Cross began the season injured, and it set the tone for the rest of the season as he only managed 9 games for his new club.
Youth: With so many senior players missing, the Knights were left with a largely youthful and inexperienced team. This inexperience showed in many games, especially the close losses where the Knights found themselves in a position to win the game, but unable to "seal the deal" so to speak, with five games decided by six points or less.
Referees: The Knights received the least penalties, and conceded the most, of 2008. For those two statistics to correlate is truly bizarre, and this hammering was something the Knights were ultimately unable to overcome. The running battles between former disgruntled Knights official and now referees boss Robert Finch and rightly incensed Knights officials was one of the more interesting side stories of 2008.
Isaac DeGois (hooker) Cronulla Sharks Ben Rogers (five-eighth/utility) St George-Illawarra Dragons George Ndaira (hooker) South Sydney Rabbitohs Jimmy Fawcett (fullback) Canterbury Bulldogs
Danny Buderus (hooker) Leeds Rhinos Chris Bailey (five-eighth/utility) Manly Sea Eagles Matt White (prop) Gold Coast Titans Jesse Royal (prop) Kurri Kurri Bulldogs Michael Young (hooker/lock) Central Charlestown
Best Win of the Year: Without a doubt the round 25 win against the defending premiers, Melbourne Storm. There was a lot of buzz in build up to this game. It was the last home game of the season. It was old-boys day, where all former Knights players would be there to watch. The Knights needed to win this game to keep their finals hopes alive. And they needed to do so without the help of inspirational captain Danny Buderus, who had ruptured his bicep in the previous week