Who will be the most influential person on the field today when the Knights fight and scrap for their season against an in-form Manly at Brookvale?
In Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans, Tom and Jake Trbojevic and Addin Fonua-Blake and the Knights' Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer and Connor Watson, there's four players from each club who could well have a major say on who wins.
Then there is the bloke pictured on the right - referee Henry Perenara - the whistle-blower Knights fans love to hate. How big an influence will he be on the outcome? A quick look at statistics tells you why this bloke has never been the flavour of the month in Newcastle.
Since his career ended and he debuted as a referee in the NRL in 2011, he has reffed the Knights 26 times for just six wins. Since Nathan Brown joined the club as coach in 2016, the Knights are two from 16 with him in charge. They have lost their last five under him.
Granted, the side only won six games in Brown's first two seasons at the club but given the overall record, it is little wonder officials, players and fans cringe whenever he's put in charge. Ironically, Perenara played 16 NRL games for the Dragons back in 2003-04 when Brown was coach.
The most infamous and cruel loss under Perenara came in the final round of 2016 against St George Illawarra at Kogarah, Jeremy Smith's last NRL game. With just one win all season, the Knights were locked at 26-all with the Dragons inside the final minute when Perenara penalised Smith for interfering in the play-the-ball. Gareth Widdop kicked the match-winning penalty goal almost as the siren sounded.
"How could I forget it - it was my last ever play in the NRL," Smith recalled this week. "I'm actually a mate of Henry but you wouldn't be able to print what I said to him that day."|
As for his refereeing and the Knights chances under him against Manly, Smith said: "There'll be inconsistencies with a lot of calls but that's footy I guess. The boys need to be squeaky clean."
That's something the Knights have suffered from this season. Along with Penrith, they are currently the most penalised team in the competition and almost a quarter of the 33 sin bins this season have been Knights players [8 binned]. Three of those eight were deemed to be wrong calls by officials.
Rather than blow up about not getting a fair crack from referees which has been more than warranted on a few occasions this season, Brown and the club have opted to take the diplomatic route, bringing in an ex-referee in recent weeks to educate the players while making their feelings known to the powers-that-be behind closed doors.
Whether any of that will make a difference today with Perenara in charge for a second straight week remains to be seen.
Jesse Ramien's problems with the Knights started with him being unhappy at not getting the football in his hands earlier in the season. Than came word about issues surrounding his management and the possibility of him changing stables when agent Gavin Orr's contract came up this month.
It was apparently then that he was regularly getting reminded the $250,000 contract he signed with the Knights after playing just one NRL game for the Sharks was massive unders and he could be earning far more elsewhere. At around the same time, we understand Ramien took offence to coach Nathan Brown not whole-heartedly publicly endorsing him for an Origin berth when NSW needed a centre prior to Origin I.
It has simmered ever since with Ramien producing some hot and cold [mainly cold] form along the way. Then the speculation grew that rivals were being sounded out and senior players pulled Ramien aside after his poor game against the Roosters to find out if there was any underlying issues.
They were apparently told everything was fine. But it got back to the club in the past week that a family member had allegedly approached Cronulla on Ramien's behalf seeking a possible return. Despite denials from Ramien, Brown and CEO Phil Gardner had felt for quite some time he didn't want to be at the club.
That's when they knew for certain.
Axing reaches Federal Parliament
ABC Radio Sport head honchos continue to cop a pasting following their decision to dump highly respected local Craig Hamilton as their Knights caller next season in favour of a young ex-AFL caller who will make the trip up from Sydney for games.
So much so, the backlash has even reached Federal Parliament following our story on Hammo's demise in this column a few weeks back. Member for Shortland Pat Conroy questioned the ABC's decision during a speech in parliament on Thursday, labelling it a "grave injustice" after being inundated with complaints from the public. "The Knights are a religion in Newcastle and Hammo is part of that religion. Hammo's call must go on," Conroy said.
Whether the political support changes anything remains to be seen but it hasn't yet.
Asked yesterday whether the backlash had forced a change of heart, ABC national head of sport Nick Morris told us: "We do appreciate and acknowledge the ongoing support for Craig.
While Craig won't be calling play by play NRL next year for the ABC, he will continue to be a big part of the sports media landscape in Newcastle and the voice of ABC Newcastle sport for a long time."
Don't expect the Knights' decision to allow Jesse Ramien to walk to have any affect on Herman Ese'ese' future at the club. We are expecting an announcement in the next week or two that he has signed with the Bulldogs. The conjecture now is whether it will be for two or three years.
Former Knight Tyler Randell is returning home from a stint with Wakefield Trinity in England next year but the news will be a bit late for at least seven local clubs. Randell has already signed with Maitland Pickers for 2020. He is good mates with Pickers lock Sam Anderson.
There has been noting official yet out of the Goannas but it's highly likely Cessnock will confirm Todd Edwards as coach again for next season following a groundswell of support for him to go again.
Edwards pulled the pin on the job last week because of several issues with the board, which were to be thrashed out at a meeting on Wednesday night.