KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown has no doubt his team’s upward trend will continue next season, but will they improve enough to make the play-offs?
That was the great unknown as Brown’s depleted squad kicked off pre-season training on Monday, sights firmly set on reaching the finals for the first time since 2013. To put that in context, not one current Newcastle player has featured in the post-season wearing a blue-and-red jersey.
Last season, the Knights finished 12th with nine victories, a significant step forward after three successive wooden spoons.
But they were still six wins adrift of the top eight, and ended with the worst points differential in the competition (minus-193), so there remains a vast gulf that will need to be bridged.
“This time of year everyone is optimistic … I’m hopeful of making good improvement again,” Brown said.
“From year one to two to three, we’ve progressed every year, and I’m expecting us to progress that much again.
“We’re going to be optimistic, like all the sides, about making the finals.
“But the way it is, it’s a tough business, there’s no doubt about that. With the players we’ve got, with Mitchell [Pearce] and Kalyn [Ponga] building combinations, we should … be confident of a good year.”
Newcastle are still awaiting the arrival of new recruits Tim Glasby (Melbourne) and Cronulla duo Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee, while Brown has several vacancies on his 30-man roster for next season, one of which he desperately hopes will be filled by Canterbury’s disgruntled Test prop David Klemmer.
“I’d rather talk about players that we do have,” Brown said of Klemmer.
“If anything was to eventuate, we’d be open to talk about it, but at this stage I’m in the dark.”
The Knights were boosted on their first day of pre-season by news that home-grown back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon had extended his contract by two more seasons, until at least the end of 2021.
Brown said Fitzgibbon, who has scored 18 tries in just 41 top-grade games, had “only scratched the surface” of realising his potential.
“I think he’s got plenty more improvement in him,” Brown said. “As good as he was last year at times, I still think he can go to another level. And that will all start with pre-season training.”