The Newcastle Knights are on a journey. Over the last 6 years they’ve ridden the highs and the lows of the NRL, from private ownership through to returning to the NRL’s administration. In the last three years they have struggled, slipping to 12th place in 2014 before finding themselves chained to the bottom of the ladder in both 2015 and 2016.
The bad times, like with any other story, actually start in the good times. On March 31st, 2011, Nathan Tinkler became the owner of the Newcastle Knights as he continued to throw his money at anything sports related in the Hunter.
With the cash came new opportunities, like the signing of Wayne Bennett, which in turn enticed players who would have previously baulked at playing in Newcastle. Bennett brought in his permanent Not-Son Darius Boyd, and went about signing a slew of older forwards to bolster the Knights pack with experience and toughness.
At this point both Tinkler and Bennett appeared to be sorcerers of the highest order, having a rejuvenated a club that had waxed and waned over the last 6-7 seasons (much like the Raiders of the 2000s the Knights would drop in and out the finals on a seasonal basis). In 2013 the Knights made it all the way to the doors of the Grand Final throne room before being turned back by the Roosters.
But sometimes magic is just sleight of hand, misdirection. By the end of 2013 it was increasingly apparent that Tinkler’s fortunes were in a spot of bother. He had already walked away from his responsibilities with the Newcastle Jets in the A-League, and it was quickly becoming apparent to everyone in the Hunter, and those at NRL HQ, that things had gone sour.
Bennett’s misdirection was less visible, until he walked. With a year left on his contract and Tinkler in ruins, he bailed on the Knights for the safety of Brisbane. The Knights were not St George, a team which was already rising when Bennett arrived to oversee the last stages of their charge towards a premiership.
Bennett had stuffed the Knights ranks with good but old forwards with short shelf lives. By the time he was gone it was clear that Knights were completely unprepared for the sudden exodus of experience. Injury just added to the problems, rubbing out key players that could’ve guided the young playing group.
Bennett took Boyd with him, and left the Knights roster looking like a desolate wasteland.
Russell Packer was jailed.
Alex McKinnon got tragically hurt.
Rick Stone got sacked.
The Sims brothers left.
Jarrod Mullen received a 4 year ban.
Other clubs came and picked what was left off the Knights.
Before the light of dawn comes the long, cold night (pun severely intended). Knights fans suffered week in, week out. The team was handed constant thrashings, with no respite.
Signings, like that of Hodkinson, proved to be stop-gap solutions. The pain continued.
And then, the first glimmers of hope. While the Knights would lose both Leilua, who was underperforming, and Tapine, they managed to snag Barnett as he left the Raiders, a good solid young forward.
The pain continued. Gagai confirmed he was sick of losing in the Hunter and that he’d rather go and lose at the Rabbitohs.
Then finally, with 2017 slowly going down the drain, the signing floodgates opened: Connor Watson, Kalyn Ponga, Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Tautau Moga and Herman Ese’ese all put pen to paper and signed on to become Knights from 2018.
Four of these, the youngsters, are fantastic signings for the Knights, and will go a long way to helping revitalise the team. Guerra and SKD may be at the wrong end of their careers, but should be able to provide a few seasons good input, provided one of them stays out of trouble.
Underlining all this is the news that the Wests Group of Newcastle has taken the reins of the Knights into their hands. Wests should prove to be a much more viable owner/administrator for the Knights, not at the mercy of market forces in the way that Tinkler was.
To Camelot! (it’s only a model)