Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
In Bennett's first year at the Knights, the Newcastle boys never met 'benchmark' quality. Will 2013 be a different story?
Strengths: No more mucking around from Wayne Bennett hoping he can transform Newcastle’s comparably timid forwards into a feared premiership force. That’s the strong message given the Knights’ acquisition of hardmen Beau Scott from the Dragons, Jeremy Smith from the Sharks – coincidentally both premiership winners under Bennett at the Red V in 2010 – and David Fa’alogo from the UK Super League for 2013. Plus Bennett has secured a coup by poaching emerging youngster Mitchell Frei from the Broncos to boost his front-row rota.
By his admission Bennett hopes these new buys will ensure opponents have “a sleepless night” before encountering his charges, something he regrets rarely if ever occurred during his first season at the helm. Certainly some added grunt might make for a better return than 2012’s fifth-fewest metres gained and third-most metres conceded. But Scott and Smith are also an excellent investment in second-phase play, given the Knights struggled in the offloads department in 2012 – making the fewest popped balls of all sides. Scott and Smith excel in this department, and were way up the stats list for back-rowers in promoting the Steeden. News Kurt Gidley is earmarked to pull on the No.6 jersey will warm the hearts of Knights fans – and strike some degree of fear into the heart of 2012 incumbent Jarrod Mullen. The enigmatic contributor looks likely to get first crack at the No.7 jersey although he’ll need to beat off emerging star Tyrone Roberts to ensure a start in the weekly run-on side. Roberts showed great skill and improved week to week during Gidley’s absence. Such depth in the halves, including forgotten man Ryan Stig, should ensure the Knights are able to adequately shuffle the decks should they require.
Also, fullback Darius Boyd, the 2010 Churchill Medallist and one of the most potent forces and linkmen in the game, couldn’t possibly be as quiet as he was in 2012, could he? That’s a ‘strength’ right there.
Weaknesses: Gidley simply needs to stay on the park in 2013 after missing much of the past two seasons, including just five outings in 2012. The stats reveal the side was woefully bereft of creativity without the Blues and Test representative: they managed just the second-fewest tries inside opposition 10-metre zones and came up without a four-point dividend more often than any other team when resorting to attacking kicks. With the latter such an important part of the modern game they need more composure, better variety and better communication if they are to up their numbers.
Also, Newcastle fans will be keen to be rid of the seemingly constant despair brought on by the Knights players’ poor discipline with the ball in hand last season, with the squad recording the second-most errors in the NRL. That statistic was most un-Bennett like; if the supercoach is unable to turn around their fortunes in this department it will be a long winter.