2010 SEASON REVIEW: Newcastle Knights
Home Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (=10th)
Away Record: 4 wins, 8 losses (=13th)
Best Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 15-18, bye Round 17)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Rounds 2-5)
Players Used: 28
Player of the Year: Matt Hilder
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 86 (13th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 102 (14th)
It has been so long since the off-season it is easy to forget the turmoil that engulfed the Knights before a ball had even been kicked this season but the Newcastle boys refuse to use the drugs furore, and subsequent loss of two strike forwards, as an excuse for 2010.
Losing Chris Houston and Danny Wicks out of the roster when it was too late to replace them is an excuse the club could rightfully use, but this fair dinkum, no-nonsense, hard-working bunch doesn’t operate that way – they believe they had the ability to overcome it but just weren’t good enough.
It is true they proved their capabilities towards the back end of the year when a late run had them back in contention; but in the end, earlier season lapses in games they should have won, cost them dearly.
The Knights under Rick Stone for the first full year didn’t lose as much ground as the difference in ladder position suggests and with some investment on steel and on some exciting youth, they could be back among the top teams next year.
Where They Excelled … The Knights loved getting the ball to the wings and with the leading try scorer in Akuila Uate on one flank and others like Cooper Vuna or James McManus on the other, it proved fruitful.
The club scored more tries on the left sideline than any other in the NRL and the second most on the right sideline. As the excitement machines continued to produce, the Knights stayed in the hunt for finals football but ultimately it was poor defence in crucial areas and a lack of discipline and ball control that killed them off (see below).
Where They Struggled … For the Knights, ball control was probably the root of all their evil.
With more than 300 errors for the year the side put way too much pressure on themselves to defend in matches. This was then compounded when they became one of the most heavily penalised teams in the competition. It culminated in concentration lapses and fatigue in games, which leaked massive amounts of tries – sometimes very soft ones.
Their goal line defence was one of the NRL’s worst and the holes up the middle came way too often as they leaked more tries through the guts than every other side other than Manly.
Kick metres and accuracy were also down and the team had a real problem both scrambling when opposition teams made a line-break, and finishing off line-breaks of their own (particularly early in the season).
Missing In Action … Obviously Danny Wicks and Chris Houston were missing in action from the start after being implicated in a drug dealing sting. But the bigger loss at the start of the year was captain Kurt Gidley who was hurt in the All-Stars game.
Gidley’s leadership was sorely missed in the opening rounds as the Knights lost four of their first five. Adam MacDougall seemed to have a one-game-on, one-game-off thing going for a while, meaning he managed just 14 games. Given the solid form he displayed when out on the pitch, his loss would have been profound also.
James McManus managed just seven games, Cory Paterson went down after 17, Ben Rogers got just nine in, while Steve Simpson gave eight hearty efforts before being forced into retirement with a knee injury.
Turning Point … The season was effectively lost for the Knights in the opening seven rounds. While they surprised everyone with a great win away from home against the Bulldogs straight out of the blocks, they then lost four straight.
Gidley returned to help manufacture a win over the Cowboys but then a loss to the Sharks followed and the Knights were well and truly playing catch-up football.
Things looked to have turned for the better mid-season when they strung three wins together but then a flogging at the hands of the Raiders in Canberra, followed by a golden point loss to the Cowboys, put them on the knife’s edge.
To the side’s credit it battled back to beat Manly, the Bulldogs and the Broncos to give themselves a small sniff, only to fall in the penultimate round to the Dragons which brought down the curtain on a tough year.
Best Games … The opening round trip to Sydney to beat the Bulldogs was gutsy and impressive. Despite being hammered all off-season with the drug scandal and being without captain Gidley, the Knights held on to win 20-16 against a side that was just one game off the grand final the year before and which had knocked them out of the 2009 finals. It was pure determination and guts shown by the side and the result was well deserved.
A 30-22 win in Brisbane to snap their early season funk was also impressive, especially as it came a week after they were terrible against the lowly Sharks.
A close-fought 6-4 win at the death over Parramatta in Newcastle was fun for the crowd as Gidley kicked a late sideline goal to clinch it; and big home wins late in the year against Manly (32-14), the Bulldogs (30-6) and Brisbane (44-18) gave the loyal fans some great thrills.
The effort on Old Boys day against the Dragons was also special. They may have lost 26-18 but they came back from 22-0 down to put a real scare into the minor premiers.
Worst Games … A Round 7 trip to the Sharks’ cage was just dismal for Knights supporters. Against a team that was struggling for attacking punch the Newcastle boys succumbed to a 26-6 loss as unforced error after unforced error made them look like rank amateurs.
The other massive disappointment was Round 19 in Canberra. While the Raiders have put many teams away in the nation’s capital, the Knights were especially meek on the way to a 52-18 defeat. It was tough to see the side lose games it should have won against the Titans, Panthers and Cowboys also. Losing to the hapless Cowboys in golden point was two competition points sorely missed.
Hold Your Head High … Kurt Gidley does everything he can for this club and battled as hard as possible in every encounter. The Knights’ skipper is an inspirational leader and can finish the year knowing he did all he could to make it a success for the club.
Winger Akuila Uate was phenomenal as a try-scoring freak, winning the top tryscorer’s tally with 21 for the year. He made a whopping 29 line-breaks, more than one a game, and averaged 139 metres gained each week. Adam MacDougall was also damaging when he played and broke the record for most tries for the Knights in the penultimate round.
Toyota Cup … The junior Knights finished the year in 12th spot on the ladder, three wins away from the finals zone. They started well enough, winning three of their first four matches but four straight losses to follow but them back in the pack.
Another run of five from six wins had the side well placed to play finals football but then they managed just one win and a draw from their last 10 games, seeing them plummet down the ladder. Defence was a real issue, ranked 12th.
Tyrone Roberts led the try-scoring stakes at the club, Josh Ailaomai, Peter Mata’utia, Neenan Simpson and Zane Tetevano averaged triple figure metres and Nick Dwan led the line-breaks. But captain and lock Ethan Cook was the pick of the bunch and rightfully took his place in the Toyota Cup Team of the Year.
Coach Rick Stone says: “Ball control all year and not winning more games at home, especially early, killed us off this year. You need to win more than half of your home matches to threaten in this competition and we didn’t do that. Ultimately a poor start to the year cost us but it was pleasing to see the side continue to fight all season despite being written off by many.”
Conclusion … Ultimately the Knights fell short in 2010 but there is still plenty to be proud of and plenty of optimism moving forward. They missed out on some big-name signings but did get Neville Costigan from the Dragons and they have stacked up some of the best young talent in the country in Beau Henry, Kyle O’Donnell and Siuatonga Likiliki. If these kids can fire next season we could see the Knights slaying the likes of the Dragons once again.