Dejected: The look on the faces of Knights players Daniel Saifiti, Tom Starling, Jamie Buhrer. Ken Sio, Mitchell Pearce and Cory Denniss says it all as Newcastle end the season with a disappointing 24-14 loss to the Dragons. Pictures: Darren Pateman/AAP Best player:Who else but Ponga. Even at pre-season training, coach Nathan Brown knew he had someone very special and the young fullback’s brilliance captured the imagination of not only Knights fans but fans throughout the NRL. A long stint on the sideline cost Pearce a chance of challenging Ponga. In just about every game he played, the Knights co-captain was among the most influential players out there.
Runner-up:Guerra played all 24 games, made more than 950 tackles and you could count his below-par performances on one hand. A fantastic influence around the group.
Surprise packet:Not too many expected Storm recruit Slade Griffin to come in, pinch the starting hooker role from Kiwi international Danny Levi, and make it his own like Griffin did. Tough and tenacious, it was one of the real tragedies of the season to see him leave the field on a medicab after suffering the fourth major knee injury of his career that’s left his playing future up in the air.
Disappointment:The way Brock Lamb’s season deteriorated with the young playmaker struggling mentally to handle his role behind Pearce and Connor Watson in the halves. Started 2018 on the bench, played outside Pearce when Watson was injured during the early rounds and then found himself alongside Watson when Pearce was sidelined. But he never looked comfortable and failed to have the impact he had at the back-end of 2017.
Favourite game and moment: Hard to go past the season-opener against Manly and Pearce’s match-winning field goal in front of a huge home crowd to get 2018 off to a flier.
THE ROAD AHEAD:A healthy squad and the addition of quality players like Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee and Tim Glasby will give the Knights a sharper edge in 2019 but it is widely acknowledged the club has to recruit some quality big men if it is to seriously challenge the premiership heavyweights. Brown will also spend a significant chunk of the pre-season attempting to shore up a defence which wasn’t much better than what the team dished up during their wooden spoon years.
On the strength of what we have seen this year and the quality of the new recruits to date with the promise of some more to come, the Knights, at the very least, need to be seriously challenging for a top eight finish next season. Anything less will be viewed as another failure.