Skill. Aggression. Depth. And with those three words the Knights will resume finals football in 2013.
Following a patchy 2012 where they struggled with consistency, a smallish forward pack and a cruel list of injuries, the Knights and Wayne Bennett will make a return to September action thanks to some solid recruiting.
Finishing 12th in season 2012, a repeat performance regardless of the circumstances is simply not an option for the Knights. And the club has duly recruited the people for the task.
Former Dragons bash brothers Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith will reunite after a couple of seasons apart, complimenting the silky Chris Houston. The return of erstwhile captain Kurt Gidley from a should injury provides much needed attacking flair and the acquisition of NRL quality players in David Fa’alogo, Anthony Quinn and Travis Waddell should add the previously absent ingredient of competition for places in the top 17.
The main doubt over the club remains enigmatic billionaire owner Nathan Tinkler, who seems to appear in the news every other week for all the wrong reasons. They have also been caught up in the drugs in sport scandal, although that lingering stench seems to have wafted away.
With the fifth worst attack and seventh worst defence, the Knights went through a painful transition to the style of football Bennett was imposing upon them. Now, with the decks cleared for the men he wants, the Knights should click into gear.
Like he did at the Dragons, it took Darius Boyd most of the season to warm to the task at his new club. Expect more fluent distribution and creative play from him in 2013. So too Akuila Uate, who seemed terribly out of sorts at various times, ultimately surrendering his Blues jersey in the Game III decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Securing the troubled three-quarter BJ Leulia may reap dividends on two fronts also, as Bennett loves a troubled child and he’s certainly got plenty of them in Newcastle. But if things don’t work out Timana Tahu, the perennial brain explosion candidate/hospital ward occupier, then a ready made replacement is in the wings.
In many ways 2013 is a “set-up” year for the Knights. They are unlikely to claim the premiership (although a few key injuries at other clubs would open the door a little more) and they aren’t a top 4 side either. But they can become a top 4 side and premiership contender for 2014 by grafting out their playing style, finding consistency in defence and opening up their backline with their unpredictable ball runners like Uate, Boyd and Dane Gagai.
I can see them making the semi’s and giving things a shake this year. If a bit of luck comes their way, maybe even a qualifiying final appearance. And like the Dragons in 2009 under Bennett, the Knights will get a taste this season and come back for more in 2014.
There’s a lot to like about this year for Knights fans.
2013 Gains: David Fa’alogo (Huddersfield Giants), Mitchell Frei (Brisbane Broncos), Joseph Leilua (Sydney Roosters), Toka Likiliki (New Zealand Warriors), Anthony Quinn (Melbourne Storm), Beau Scott (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jeremy Smith (Cronulla Sharks), Travis Waddell (Canberra Raiders)
2013 Losses: Sam Anderson (Penrith Panthers), Ethan Cook (Penrith Panthers), Joel Edwards (Canberra Raiders), Richie Fa’aoso (Manly Sea Eagles), Daine Laurie (Wyong), Kurt Mann (Melbourne Storm), Wes Naiqama (Penrith Panthers), Kyle O’Donnell (Penrith Panthers), Api Pewhairangi (Parramatta Eels), Junior Sa’u (Melbourne Storm), Zeb Taia (Catalan Dragons), Evarn Tuimavave (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Knights Top 17: Darius Boyd, Akulia Uate, Dane Gagai, Timana Tahu, James McManus, Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley, Willie Mason, Danny Buderus, Neville Costigan, Beau Scott, Chris Houston, Jeremy Smith
Interchange: David Fa’alogo, Kade SnowdenAdam Cuthbertson, Matt Hilder