Knights 2015 season review
After starting the season with four wins, Newcastle fans were asking 'Wayne who?' and working out how many more wins they needed to qualify for finals football. Sitting pretty unbeaten atop the NRL Telstra Premiership by April, that's where the good times stopped for the Novocastrians. By season's end coach Rick Stone had been sacked and a final-round loss to Penrith secured the club the second wooden spoon in their history. While club legend Danny Buderus offered some bright moments in charge over the final six weeks, Newcastle have a long road ahead to peg back all that was lost.
Where They Excelled: The fact they were able to score 20-plus points in 16 of their 24 games has to be commended. To put that into context, minor premiers the Roosters achieved the feat in 18 of their games, while the eighth-placed Dragons managed to do so a mere eight times. The fact Newcastle were able to rack up some big scores holds some sort of promise for the future.
Where They Struggled: The damning feature of the Knights' year was their inability to hold out opposition attacks. The Knights were the second-worst defensive side in the league behind the Titans, conceding 612 points – that's 25.5 points per game!
Missing In Action: A four-week suspension for new signing Tariq Sims wasn't ideal – and it'll be déjà vu for the Knights when the back-rower sits out the first five games of 2016 with another suspension. Season-ending injuries to Jarrod Mullen (toe), Jack Stockwell (biceps) and the career-ending neck injury to David Fa'alogo also hit hard. After playing every game of 2014 Robbie Rochow was restricted to just five games with back and arm woes, while James McManus didn't play the final six weeks of the year due to concussion worries. Joey Leilua and Chad Redman jumped ship to the Raiders and the Titans respectively while Jeremy Smith, Adam Clydsdale, Beau Scott and Tyrone Roberts were casualties at different points of the year.
Turning Point: One rainy night in old Newcastle town was enough to turn the Knights' season on its head. Round 5 saw Newcastle go down 13-0 to the Dragons after starting the season unbeaten. The defeat would kick-start a five-game losing streak that they would never recover from.
Hold Your Head High: Dane Gagai, Kade Snowden and Kurt Gidley are really the only men who can stake claim to Newcastle's Player of the Year award. Gagai made his State of Origin debut in Queensland's crushing victory in the series decider and played every game for Newcastle for the second straight year. Snowden was a force up front, averaging 131.7 metres and 33.9 tackles per game. As for Gidley, the Knights' fearless leader plugged any hole necessary – even when he didn't want to – all for the betterment of his beloved club in his final NRL season.
2016 Crystal Ball: Life after Gidley will hit home hard when the off-season comes around, with the super-fit captain having been the pacesetter in the summer months since the early-2000s. Under (yet to be officially announced) new coach Nathan Brown the only way is up. The acquisition of New South Wales halfback Trent Hodkinson will help their cause.
Conclusion: The onus on the club's future is now down to the crop of young stars within the team – Jake Mamo, Sione Mata'utia, Adam Clydsdale, Sam Mataora, Tyler Randell, Danny Levi, Joe Tapine and Pat Vaivai. Following Newcastle's admirable loss on Old Boys Day to the Bulldogs – which followed victories against the Wests Tigers and Melbourne – interim coach Buderus said the Knights were undergoing a "changing of the guard".
"Blokes like Mamo, he's a great player, so much to learn, but he's a helluva player. Danny Levi, Joe Tapine, Sam Mataora, these guys are young and they're making a good fist of things at the moment," Buderus said after Round 25.
"But what they need to do is be confident in the off-season and be so hungry to make sure this club gets back to where it needs to be and where it wants to be."
Home Record: 4-8
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 4 (Round 1-4)
Longest Losing Streak: 6 (Round 11-18)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored: 79
Tries Conceded: 106