Newcastle Knights have threatened to break free of their drought in the bottom eight of the NRL in recent years, but they have never quite done it.
Their side is certainly more competitive these days but their tendency to concede too many points still halts their progress.
Kalyn Ponga is one of the stars of the NRL and hopefully Head Coach Adam O’Brien will keep him at fullback where he can thrive and cause havoc for opposition defences.
But that does leave a gap in the halves that Mason Lino doesn’t quite fit. Kurt Mann has been tried at stand-off, alongside Mitchell Pearce, but that does seem to be a possible problem position for the Knights.
In the forwards, they have some very capable players in the likes of New South Wales front-row duo David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti while Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Mitchell Barnett and Tim Glasby are also excellent players in the back three of the pack.
Their bench has plenty of versatility on it with Connor Watson and Sione Mata’utia able to cover a multitude of positions both in the backs and in the forwards.
The hooking role will be taken on by new signing Jayden Brailey. Brailey, the older brother of Blayke, joined the club from Cronulla, leaving brother Blayke, while Danny Levi has left the Knights to join Manly Sea Eagles.
Former Brisbane pair Tautau Moga and Gehamat Shibasaki will be fighting it out to partner Hymel Hunt in the centres. Moga has had several injury issues in recent years while Shibasaki was never able to push his way into the Broncos’ side on a regular basis last year.
Coach: Adam O’Brien
Adam O’Brien (above, centre) is probably an unknown name to many in the UK, or you may be thinking that Huddersfield Giants’ hooker has taken early retirement and landed himself a mega job in the NRL. You’d be wrong!
O’Brien was snapped up by the Knights after Nathan Brown’s resignation late in 2019 and will take charge of his first game as head coach with the Knights in 2020. Previously he was part of Trent Robinson’ coaching staff at the Roosters who of course won the Grand Final last year. Knights fans will be hoping he can bring that winning mentality to Newcastle this year.
Star Player: Kalyn Ponga
Who else? Kalyn Ponga (pictured, top) is one of the stars of the NRL. His entertaining style puts bums on seats and his signing a few years ago showed the Knights’ ambition to rise up the table.
Last year saw Nathan Brown attempt to bring Ponga up into the defensive line at stand-off but the move didn’t work for Ponga and he found his feet once again back at fullback.
2020 could be Ponga’s best year yet if he knuckles down at the back and showcases his incredible feet and passing ability.
Rugby League World Predicts: 10th
First published in Rugby League World, Issue 467 (March 2020)