The Knights were already the premiership favourites after they won the first two rounds of the 2020 season very convincingly, and that makes rookie coach Adam O’Brien flawless.
A lot of attention will be on the Newcastle Knights this season, with a new coach ushering in a new era.
I have three backs and three forwards who are set for their breakout year, plus an honourable mention.
Let’s start with the backs.
Word is, barring any injury in the Nines or trials, Kurt Mann will take first shot at the number 6 role.
Mann’s got a killer running game, playmaking ability and a brilliant torpedo bomb. Should he stick to this spot (or slot at fullback when Kalyn Ponga is on State of Origin duty), he’s in a for a big year.
In the last two seasons, I saw many glimpses of Ponga’s brilliance but he did not maintain consistency. A general lack of belief from the team towards the end of the season really gave him some doubts but during the Knights’ six-win streak, he played five and outscored the opposition 88-66.
This is his third year in Newcastle and with much more experience as a player and with the team, he’s going to have a big one.
The 18-year-old may’s size and speed will are excellent. With three games under his belt, this will still be considered his rookie season and I’m tipping him to be the team’s leading try-scorer.
One try down and 110 to go.
Now to the forwards.
The ‘Klemminator’ has brought out the best in fellow props like the Saifiti twins, Herman Ese’ese and Josh King, but this year he will not only lead the pack, he will be a big difference-maker.
The only Knight to have played first grade with Wayne Bennett as coach, Mata’utia has been better since his return to the second row.
Sione has played 112 games and has improved each season, so will only get better. I’m tipping him to be the first Knight to play 300 games for the club.
Big Barnett tends to have a leadership mindset in him and on his best days, can do some serious damage. The backrower can change games for his side.
His lethal running game and ability to offload in most tough circumstances gains big metres and will continue to do so.
Special mention: Connor Watson
Another utility, Watson seemed to have locked down the hooker spot last year but, due to Jayden Brailey’s arrival, he must settle on another role.
Talk is he may play lock forward and I’m all for that. He may not be as big or buff as the usual locks you see today but his running game could be an asset.
Well Roarers, which Knights player is in a for a big season?