In the lead up to the 2014 VB NSW Cup season, we will shine the spotlight on all 13 competing teams to see how they are shaping up for the year ahead.
Today we take a look at the Newcastle Knights.
Head Coach: Rick Stone
Home Grounds: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle No.2 Sports Ground, Cessnock Sports Ground & St John Oval
Year Entered Competition: 2012
2013 Result: 2nd - (18 wins and 6 losses)
2014 Key Signings: Matt Minto (Mackay Cutters), Clint Newton (Penrith Panthers) & Michael Dobson (Hull Kingston Rovers).
After taking back ownership of their VB NSW Cup side in 2012 (formerly Central Coast Centurions) the Newcastle Knights have been one of the more successful sides in the competition having made back to back Preliminary Finals.
In fact with 34 wins in the regular season and finals combined, no other side in the competition has posted more victories in the past two seasons.
Rick Stone will be hoping for more of the same in 2014, and with a fairly settled playing list at the club and a burgeoning group of youngsters ready to break through, the Knights are likely to be there once again when the whips are cracking.
“We have reached the Preliminary Final for the past two years which shows some great consistency and we would love to go one step better this year,” said Stone.
“But our first goal will be trying to get as many players into our NRL side throughout the year.”
With the exception of the off season signings highlighted at the top of the article, the Knights will be relying heavily on a host of players that already exist within their current systems, as well as possibly drawing on some of Newcastle Rugby Leagues top prospects.
“We have around 25 part time players training with us which will complement our full time squad.
“We have been training three days a week and we have invited a few players from each of the local clubs to come down and their effort and commitment has been terrific.
“We will play trials against Newtown and Mounties over the coming weeks and these players will all get some game time there.”
Depth has always been a strong suit of the Knights and despite the departure of some key outside backs such as Kevin Naiqama, Will Smith and Peter Mata’utia, the club should have no issues in finding suitable replacements.
“Depth is something that we had plenty of last year and we should be well served in that department once again.
“Our outside backs may be a little lighter on following the departure of Naiqama, Mata’utia, Smith and Likiliki but we should get Timana back following his knee reconstruction.
“Most other positions are covered pretty well and we will look to unearth some new outside backs over the next few weeks.”
Given a good run of injuries in their top grade, the Knights VB NSW Cup side should have the services of players such as Matt Hilder, Timana Tahu and Clint Newton as well a host of others with NRL experience such as Josh Mantellato and Michael Dobson.
On the surface, the Knights look a definite top four prospect once again, and it would take a game man to bet against them finally taking that next step and making it through to the Grand Final.
The Knights VB NSW Cup side will kick off their 2014 campaign with a tough away fixture against the Penrith Panthers at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday March 8.