Knights 2016 season review
It's not a good sign when Australia, New South Wales and Brad Fittler's City Origin team win as many games despite your team being in a 26-round competition. But it's the reality the Knights faced in 2016, their 18-16 win over the Wests Tigers in Round 6 proving to be their only victory of the year.
A 24-all draw to the Raiders in Round 3 was when the Knights' found an extra solitary competition point other than their two byes. An 18-game losing streak followed their only win and by now it should come as no surprise they finished on the bottom rung of the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
Mid-season signings Mitchell Barnett (Raiders), Brendan Elliot (Roosters), Peter Mata'utia (Dragons) and Chris Adams (Lakes United) boosted the Knights ranks but the poor results never wavered.
Where they excelled: The Knights have excelled at very little this year except for handing local juniors their NRL debuts. Fans have been crying poor for years over the treatment of their juniors. But under Brown, the Knights worked hard to address it. Only David Bhana and Jaelen Feeney – from Newcastle's 11 debutants – weren't locals. The Saifiti brothers Jacob and Daniel (18 and 20 games), Pat Mata'utia (14) and Josh King (12) were all expected to feature minimally this year. While not even Knights tragics could've told you about Jack Cogger, Brock Lamb, Will Pearsall, Cory Denniss and Dylan Phythian prior to this year.
Where they struggled: The fundamentals. The Knights have managed a paltry 305 points this season – just 29 points more than Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker's individual; tally. They were also the last team to reach 50 tries scored this year, only doing so in the final round against the Dragons. They missed over 900 tackles, conceded 800 points exactly and the third most penalties (187) competition-wide.
Missing in action: Veteran winger James McManus was ruled out before a ball had been kicked and has since retired with minor brain damage. Kade Snowden's season lasted a whole 28 minutes before he was eventually medically retired due to a chronic back injury. Chanel Mata'utia (knee) played Round 1 and wasn't sighted since. Tariq Sims missed the first five games of the year due to suspension and then left for the Dragons. Five-eighth Jarrod Mullen missed a combined 10 games due to separate hamstring issues while Rabbitohs-bound Robbie Rochow was restricted to eight games after breaking his arm and tearing his pectoral in isolated incidents.
Turning point: When Henry Perenara blew the whistle for the Knights' season-opener against the Titans. Hope of Newcastle finishing higher than their 2015 last-place finish took a hit 80 minutes later when the Gold Coast prevailed 30-12. It set the tone for the remainder of their year.
Hold your head high: The Knights' Player of the Year is a race of two players: Upstart NRL rookie and Fiji international Daniel Saifiti and high-flying winger Nathan Ross. Saifiti scored in his debut game in Round 1 and has been inspiration for the Knights (predominantly off the bench) ever since. Saifiti has averaged 24.7 tackles and 116 metres per game in his debut season. Ross has been spectacular on the wing where he is the club's leading try scorer (nine) and averaging almost four tackle breaks per game. Dane Gagai was otherwise spectacular for Queensland (four tries in three Origins).
2017 crystal ball: 12 months ago this humble reporter wrote the only way was up for Newcastle considering their last place finish. A second wooden spoon later and here we are asking the exact same questions again. A trifecta of spoons isn't out of the equation, so let's just say the Knights will win more than one game next year.
Conclusion: A year like this was always inevitable for the Knights. What Newcastle lacked in wins in 2016 they certainly gained in experience for their players aged 21 and under. It's fair to be optimistic about Newcastle's prospects moving forward especially if rumoured targets Greg Bird, Rory Kostjasyn and Chris Heighington come to fruition. Other positives remain in the Saifiti twins, Ross and King extending their time at the club following an overly disappointing season.
"The Saifiti twins are going to be great players. Sione (Mata'utia), Mitch Barnett have plenty of learning to do but still so much to give," retiring co-captain Jeremy Smith, following the Knights' 28-26 loss to the Dragons.
"The club is in pretty good hands. Watching a lot of them grow from young boys into young men has been the highlight for me."
Home Record: 1-1-10
Away Record: 0-12
Longest Winning Streak: 1 (Round 6)
Longest Losing Streak: 18 (Rounds 7-26)
Players Used: 35
Tries Scored: 52
Tries Conceded: 142