Mid-season Report Card: Knights

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Mid-season Report Card


Position: 8th
Wins: 8
Losses: 5
Byes: 0
Points: 16
Differential: +41

The Knights are probably the surprise packets of 2009. You can’t help but be impressed by their fighting qualities as they push towards a finals berth for the first time since 2006.

Brian Smith promised change – and change has indeed come in his third year at the helm, with the Knights taking down some of the game’s in-form teams.

They have lifted in the big moments, having beaten teams including the Dragons, Bulldogs, Broncos and Titans. No longer can fans expect anything less than a spot somewhere in the post-season.

Having yet to have a bye, the Knights are travelling very well indeed, even if a last-start loss to Parramatta saw them drop from the top four to eighth spot at the halfway mark.

Their run home is helped by two byes, and four of their past six games are at EnergyAustralia Stadium where they had won eight straight before the loss to the Eels.

Are Things Going To Plan? Absolutely they are – except for the hiccup loss against Parramatta. While others still look at the Knights’ roster and see inexperience and lack of depth, Smith sees no more excuses. He believes they are absolutely a finals-strength side.

They started slowly, losing two of the first three, before winning six of seven to prompt the competition to sit up and take notice. A little inconsistency has come into their game over the past three weeks while the representative season revs up, but if they can ride through the period with minimal damage they’ll be in a great place for the push to the post-season.

The side has had some great wins over Manly (26-12), St George Illawarra (24-18), Brisbane (28-12), Gold Coast (23-18) and the Bulldogs (22-14) proving if nothing else they can rise to the occasion.

Injury Front… The fact the Knights are doing as well as they are, despite having already used 28 players, is a real credit to them. While it is true Brian Smith likes to mix his squad up a bit to keep everyone fresh and on their toes, he has still had to deal with some injuries he’d prefer not have. Ben Cross is out for the season, as is Cameron Ciraldo, while Wes Naiqama, Adam MacDougall, Akuila Uate, Ben Rogers, Dan Tolar and Steve Simpson have all spent plenty of time on the sidelines. Also, depression has kept Chris Paterson out of the top grade for some time.

If Only… Had the Knights won last week against Parramatta, as was expected, they would be sitting in third place at the halfway point. But such is the closeness of the top eight sides the unexpected two-point loss saw them dip down the list. The side shouldn’t have surrendered a late lead against the Wests Tigers in Round 7 but they suffered at the hands of some Benji Marshall brilliance and a horrendous injury toll to fall 26-24. If those two games were reversed we’d be talking about the competition leaders…

Who’s Flying…
Jarrod Mullen is putting serious heat on the representative selectors with some great form. He is setting up his outside supports nicely but it is his running game that has really come along this season.

Despite having a dodgy shoulder Mullen has shown great strength on his way to seven tries, the most by any Newcastle player. He also has five line breaks, eight line-break assists and 11 try assists plus his kicking game is one of the most accurate in the competition.

Captain Kurt Gidley is the closest thing to ‘Superman’ in the NRL. He has been phenomenal all season and was duly rewarded with the NSW captaincy. He is running for an incredible 168 metres a match and bobs up as a playmaker and a dummy-half option as well as a kick-returning star.

Winger James McManus was also rewarded for consistent performances with a Blues berth, and others like Zeb Taia, Chris Houston and Junior Sau have punched well above their pre-season expectations. Then there is hooker Isaac De Gois, who has been defensively outstanding but who has also added an impressive dictating/attacking aspect to his game to cover the loss of Danny Buderus almost seamlessly.

Needs To Lift… It’s hard to single out a Knights player who needs to lift their game, as the entire squad has been playing consistently well. Ben Rogers could certainly play on a more consistent basis, but it feels harsh to jot down his name here. If the Knights could improve anywhere specifically it would probably be in the middle part of the field: in terms of tries conceded from different distances the Knights have let in more four-pointers from between 21 and 50 metres than any other side, pointing to a possible problem in concentration when the opposition is in the area.

Brian Smith Tells NRL.com…
“We have grown in confidence and our combinations in offence are certainly improving with the potential for rapid development in the second half of the season. Our defence needs a little more consistency from week to week but we are in good shape at this stage.”

Predicted Finish…
This side should be good enough, barring some rotten injury luck, to be kicking come September. They have every chance to finish top four but might struggle to maintain the rage. Expect 4th-8th.

Under-20s…
The Newcastle under-20s haven’t had as much success as their first grade big brothers, languishing in 14th spot on the Toyota Cup ladder just one point ahead of the wooden spoon position. But the good news is they are just two wins from the top eight – and they haven’t had their byes yet. Con Mika has been a great leader for the side, although he could spend more time in the NRL in the back half of the year. Also, centre Peter Mata’utia is proving a real workhorse.