Club: Newcastle Knights
Record: 15-9 (+147)
Players Used in 2014: 36
Season Highlight: A nine match winning streak that carried the team from mid table through to a Grand Final appearance
Season Lowlight: Michael Dobson suffering a season ending foot injury in their Preliminary Final win over Illawarra which in hindsight cost them any realistic chance of knocking over the Panthers the following week
Summary: It was an indifferent start to the 2014 season for Newcastle however a late withering burst saw them finish the season as the competition’s hottest side prior to contesting the 2014 Grand Final.
After suffering a 26-0 loss at the hands of the Cutters in round 17 the Knights reeled off nine wins in a row which took them from being in a top eight dogfight to a top two finish and a Grand Final appearance.
Their up and down start to the year saw them suffer disappointing losses to Mounties (twice) and Wentworthville but they also posted wins against the likes of the Panthers, Roos and Bulldogs. But five losses on the trot between rounds nine and thirteen left the Knights sitting outside the top eight, and dreams of a top two finish would have seemed quite far away at that point.
But as we all know, eventually the Knights came good, and in the lead up to the Grand Final, they always looked the side most likely to throw out the biggest challenge to what was an extremely ruthless Panthers team.
Brimming with talent, Newcastle finally made a Grand Final after back to back Preliminary Final losses in 2012 and 2013 and for the most part it was a real team effort. Big game players like Michael Dobson and Josh Mantellato led the way all year long while Clint Newton made a miraculous mid-season return from what was first feared a season ending injury and showed why the club was more than happy to welcome back one of their favourite sons.
But in addition to the players noted above, Newcastle was perhaps served best by some of the lesser known names in 2014. Guys like James Elias, Brenton Horwood, Michael Steele, Chad Redman and Pat Vaivai all played in the majority of games and really provided the cornerstone for what the Knights would ultimately achieve come seasons end.
Others also came and went throughout the course of the year but still served the side more than admirably. A guy like Honeti Tuha springs to mind who played ten games, generally at the back earlier in the year when Nathan Ross was unavailable. Tuha showed enough in his time in red and blue to suggest that more regular VB NSW Cup is not above him in the future and ultimately that is what this competition is all about, exposing good talent to a high level of league and hopefully providing them with a suitable platform for them to show their wares.
As mentioned above, Nathan Ross did miss some footy in 2014 due to injury, but when he was on the park, he lit the place up. Ross is a tackle busting machine that has a knack for finding the try line and it is wonderful to see that the Knights have re-signed him heading into the 2015 season. And with the departure of Darius Boyd, perhaps the door is slightly ajar for the man known as ‘Ross Dogg’ to make his NRL debut next year.
Another player, who like Ross, has progressed into this team via the local Newcastle competition, Tyler Randell is proving himself to be a real find for the Knights, and he was rewarded with an NRL debut in 2014 as well as representing the VB NSW Cup Representative side up at Suncorp Stadium prior to Origin Three. Randell’s utility value makes him a treasured commodity in today’s rugby league landscape, and now that Rick Stone has once again taken the reigns at first grade level, perhaps Randell is set for more time in the top grade.
It must be said that the Knights didn’t have too many bad players in 2014 but perhaps the most pleasing aspect for the club is that with the exception of a handful of veterans, this side was largely comprised of rising young talent. Both Chanel and Pat Mata’utia look set for a big 2015 season with Chanel having already tasted first grade in 2014 while Pat was extremely close and will be driven by the achievements of his brothers to further develop as a player.
The Knights wouldn’t have been happy with how they played in the Grand Final but to be fair the Panthers were head and shoulders the best side all season long, and even had they played their best footy on the day, it still may not have been enough. The loss of Michael Dobson a week earlier clearly made this task all the tougher, but their loss should certainly not overshadow what was for the most part, a very good year for the men from the Hunter.
Conclusion: A really good year for the Knights who finally made a Grand Final after being one of the most consistent sides in this competition under Rick Stone’s reign.