The Newcastle Knights showed promising signs in 2017 after finishing seventh on the competition ladder, but were unable to continue their success with a wooden spoon finish this season.
It proved to be a season of change for the Novacastrians after coach Simon Woolford's departure to the English Super League in May, with Rory Kostjaysn named as his replacement the week following.
But hope still remains for Newcastle after a vastly improved season in their NRL squad, somewhat resonating into the Intrust Super Premiership side after a strong finish in the latter stages of the season as they won two of their final three matches.
Those two wins proved significant after they recorded just five throughout their entire campaign, particularly with their resilient effort against the Penrith Panthers in Round 23 – a two-point loss to the Minor Premiers a rather bittersweet result considering the attacking flair of the Penrith outfit.
Their lowest point was their 62-0 thumping to the Mounties in Round 13 – their third loss within a five-game losing streak that saw their chances of a finals berth go straight out the window.
Nonetheless, their strong finish in the latter stages of the season showed an abundance of character after a season that was well below their lofty standards, which will arguably prove influential as they bounce into the 2019 pre-season with plenty of positivity.
The Key Number
The Roosters showed that defence wins premierships after their defiant efforts was the cornerstone of their successful 2018 season in the NRL, and arguably the most alarming statistic for the Knights was their own poor defence which saw them concede 589 points across their 24 games.
But their final four fixtures was a late turning point for the Knights as they conceded just nine tries in the last month of the season, three of those games being against top eight sides in the Panthers, Warriors and Mounties.
The Rising Star
It may have been a season to forget collectively for the Knights but there was plenty to be excited about with the emergence of some young superstars who put in some impressive individual performances.
Fullback Nick Meaney showed everyone why he is earmarked as a star of the future but will move onto the Bulldogs in 2019, while Luke Yates caught the eye of many with some tireless efforts earning him six appearances in the top grade.
But while they started to make a name for themselves with strong individual displays, it was Tom Starling who developed significantly over the course of 2018 and will be one to keep an eye on in years to come.
Starling was rewarded with a First-Grade debut in Round 25 against the Dragons after the hard-working hooker continued to dominate the Jersey Flegg Cup and Intrust Super Premiership with some consistent performances.
Still just 20 years of age, you can expect the dynamic No.9 to feature prominently in the Intrust Super Premiership in 2019 in the hopes of pushing for a regular start in the First-Grade side.
Room For Improvement
Consistency is one of the most commonly used words among Rugby League circles but there is little doubt how important it is when building a team that can contend for the premiership.
The Knights struggled at times throughout the season but showed glimpses of their potential with strong showings against some of the heavyweights of the competition, but will be looking to build on the foundations they laid late in the season.
Particularly in defence, where they were ranked last at the end of the regular season, they will be looking build consistency from week to week so they take use their strike weapons such as Jack Johns and Tom Hughes at the other end of the field.
In combination with greater discipline with the ball-in-hand – a higher completion rate and less handling errors, few would doubt the Knights have the potential for a more consistent season.
How it will be remembered
The 2017 season will obviously be a huge disappoint for the Newcastle Knights, but success stems from the top down which has clearly been established within the NRL squad with the likes of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga enjoying stellar seasons.
The cultural change among the club will be sure to pay dividends sooner rather than later for Newcastle, and it can only mean success is just around the corner for the ISP side.