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Why your team will do better in 2020: Newcastle Knights

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11th February, 2020

After years of misery, 2019 was supposed to be the year Nathan Brown took his rebuilt Knights back to finals football.

Instead, it proved to be another disappointing year, with the red and blue finishing the season in 11th place.

Their season started slowly, with the failed experiment of playing star fullback Kalyn Ponga in the halves.

A mid-season winning streak saw the Knights spend much of the year entrenched in the top eight, showing their potential.

But they lost eight of their final ten games, resulting in Jesse Ramien leaving the club and coach Brown resigning before he could be sacked.

Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown.

Nathan Brown (Tony Feder/Getty Images)

New coach Adam O’Brien has inherited a strong squad, however certain weaknesses need to be addressed.


The five-eighth position proved a problem, with Ponga, Kurt Mann, Connor Watson and Mason Lino all used in the position.

Mann has reportedly been training here all pre-season, with rookie Phoenix Crossland battling a pelvis injury and Watson preferred as a bench utility.

I have my doubts about Mann’s ability, but with Pearce and Ponga doing the bulk of the creating, he will only need to bring a running game in more of a supportive role.

The rest of the spine is quality, with Ponga fullback, Pearce halfback and recruit Jayden Brailey taking over at hooker, while Watson provides coverage for all these positions.

This spine will be playing behind a pack that should provide plenty of go-forward.

The forwards will be once again led by David Klemmer, arguably the game’s best front-rower, joined by fellow Origin reps Tim Glasby and Daniel Saifiti.

Mitch Barnett may play second row or lock, the latter relegating one of these rep players to the bench.


Jacob Saifiti, Herman Ese’ese and Aidan Guerra will compete for bench positions, ensuring the platform will continue to be laid when the starting players leave the field.

Although not superstars, the other second row options Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Sione Mata’utia have already achieved quite a lot in their relatively short playing careers, and provide attacking options for their halves.

2020 should see a couple of highly rated young backs establish themselves as genuine first graders. Bradman Best is an early favourite for rookie of the year and will likely get first shot at left centre.

Starford To’a is another promising player to watch out for. He is in the running to start the season on the right wing but may have to bide his time behind experienced options Hymel Hunt and Tautau Moga.

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Edrick Lee should start on the right wing in the same form that he began 2019 before injury finished his season prematurely.


This playing group has not changed a whole lot to last season, though Brailey should provide better service from dummy-half. But talent was not the issue.

So the biggest recruit for 2020 is O’Brien.

His resume suggests he will be an instant success, coming to the club having had many years in Melbourne as an assistant to Craig Bellamy before spending last season beside Trent Robinson at the Roosters.

All the noise around the club suggests he is doing a fine job and as such I’m prepared to back the Knights for a return to finals football this year.

How do you see them going?