Knights' mid-season review
With injuries and off-field distractions galore, Newcastle's season has been a rocky road that leaves them needing a monumental finish to figure in the playoffs.
Ladder position: 15th.
Overview: It's hard to believe Newcastle have been a mere shadow of the team that finished one game short of the grand final last season. While their inconsistency on the field is a massive cause for concern moving forward, especially with losses to the Raiders, Cowboys and Broncos to their name, away from the paddock the turmoil has been equally as disconcerting for the Novocastrians. There's been drama with Nathan Tinkler failing to pay several players and staff on time and subsequently relinquishing control of the club; the sackings of Russell Packer and Zane Tetevano; and a dreadful injury count including a heartbreaking spinal injury to Alex McKinnon. Yes, the Knights seemingly haven't been able to take a trick in 2014, and it's leaving their coach Wayne Bennett and captain Kurt Gidley almost at a loss for words.
Positives: One quality factor that the Knights have maintained is their ability to lift for the big games. While the competition remains tight, the Knights have gone within a whisker of beating the top two teams. They should consider themselves unlucky falling to Canterbury (16-12 in Round 8) and Manly (15-14 in Round 10). Two old heads in the forward pack have been playing extremely well despite their team's poor showing this season. Beau Scott earned himself a New Souths Wales recall off the back of his three tries, four line-breaks, 22 offloads, 23 tackle breaks and 24.7 tackles per game, while Adam Cuthbertson has been brilliant wherever Bennett has played him in the pack this season with 22 offloads, 29.9 tackles (23) and 125.4 metres per game. Elsewhere, Newcastle has welcomed Jake Mamo, Joseph Tapine and Paterika Vaivai to the big league this season with this injection of youth demonstrating that the future is still bright.
Negatives: The Novocastrians' troubles started at the pre-season Auckland Nines when influential five-eighth Jarrod Mullen went down with a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first five weeks. Their tyres were further punctured when the rest of the spine in Gidley, Tyrone Roberts and Darius Boyd went down in Round 1, and the team hasn't really recovered. Their forward depth has taken blow after blow too. Along with Packer, Tetevano and McKinnon, Willie Mason, Korbin Sims, Jeremy Smith and Clint Newton have missed a substantial amount of football leading to their pack looking brittle at certain points throughout the year.
Biggest Moment: It came the week after Alex McKinnon's spinal injury in their Round 4 clash with Cronulla. With emotion running high at Hunter Stadium, the hashtag 'Rise for Alex' trending on Twitter and a stirring minute of applause crackling across the ground for teammate McKinnon, the Knights won their first game of the season with a 30-nil shutout over fellow cellar dwellers Cronulla. It was a day that left even Wayne Bennett with a tear in his eye.
NRL.com Prediction: Our ladder predictor exercise has the Knights finishing on 24 points which we anticipate will see them finish in the bottom four teams.