My, how time flies. It seems like only yesterday we heralded the Knights and their potential for 2019.
Through a long season there were times when expectations seemed well founded while, at others, it was clear there's work to do. Either way, the players gave near their best and were finals contenders until faltering - as did the front office - when it mattered most. At that point their chances fell of a cliff.
As they line up for their final fling at the foot of the Blue Mountains, with the off-field dramas in the rear-view mirror, our Knights will again do their best in what is now a dead rubber. With a new coach, contracts up for grabs and pride on the line, one anticipates players won't leave much in the tank in this final hurrah.
Knights by two.
THIS WEEK'S TOP 8
1. The NRL issued a recent communique on Mad Monday expectations for clubs and players. Like an old-school principal, the NRL lectured players to "behave" or they'll come down like a tonne of bricks. On the supply side, players will be kept on a tight leash. The demand, however, is stronger than ever.
Who can forget the private Bulldogs function last year effectively becoming a "scandal" after an uninvited photographer covertly secreted himself into a high-rise vantage point to get snaps of unsuspecting players. This year technology might even send drones up to seek out "nudie" runs or other such hijinks that might shock, titillate and/or entertain the masses. Sad. One wonders whether the NRL also sends a memo to their media partners asking them to back off and allow players to unwind in peace?
2. Attempts by the NRL to double down on their recent court victory haven't gone down well with the players union.
Already, the unilateral imposition on players of a "no-fault stand-down" policy has forced the association to question the integrity of the NRL. Ongoing dispute-resolution proceedings, required under a certified agreement, have had no influence on the Moore Park suits. Then news broke that the ever-paternal NRL had proposed a so-called "player-punishment matrix" to codify and further entrench the disputed stand-down policy. Like the far-reaching and insidious "discretionary powers" snuck into the frame by Todd Greenberg's lawyers, I wouldn't trust these blokes as far as I could drop-kick them. Reflecting mainstream industrial practices, the audacity of the league's administrative over- reach is close to breathtaking and should attract attention from, if not our courts, then every player in the NRL.
3. Who needs a goalkicker? If they want to play in the finals, the Sharks could use a back-up to Shaun Johnson. The injured Johnson handed the reins to young Kyle Flanagan last weekend. He managed none from three, gifting the game and possibly their season to the Raiders. It was the fifth time this year they've scored more tries but lost. Indeed, if goalkicking wasn't a thing, the Sharks would be third on the points table. Cronulla fans will be sweating on Johnno's recovery for their all-or-nothing clash with the Tigers.
4. While winning on the road is the holy grail for sports teams, playing and winning at home is ideal. But on the basis that most finals are played "away", getting better should be front and centre of team strategy. Unsurprisingly, it's the Storm who lead that benchmark - winning an astronomical 92 per cent (11 from 12) of their assignments in somebody else's backyard. Impressive stuff from the minor premiers, who look more ruthless the closer they get to October.
5. The Beagles have lost talisman Tom Trbojevic and any chance of advancing deeply into the finals. Already short of second-rower Joel Thompson with a broken arm, the recent confidence has crashed, suggesting the top four will again be the only teams seriously in line for grand final honours. The Eels, possibly, could prove me wrong.
6. The perfect storm hit Newcastle crowd numbers hard. Fans stayed away on Old Boys' day last weekend in their thousands, despite a mathematical possibility of advancement to the top eight. The lowest turnout in 22 years might be excused, given playing the Titans in wet and wild conditions was anything but appealing, but throw in the fan disaffection of the past month, and it was always a hard sell. That said, the 200 bravehearts on the north and south hills needed a medal, and a Bonox.
7. The Knights have got their man. Adam O'Brien is the new coach, but where has he come from? Connections tell me the Batemans Bay junior travelled to Cairns Brothers in the mid-noughties to play under captain-coach Brad Arthur. After a few years, Arthur enticed O'Brien to join him as assistant to coach the Melbourne Storm under-20s. Arthur would eventually move on, while O'Brien cut his teeth in the pro ranks under Craig Bellamy, before his current stint with the premiers.
His compelling CV, however, includes no head-coaching credentials, which makes the appointment of an experienced side-kick crucial. Choosing that man is a decision the club should not necessarily leave solely in O'Brien's hands.
8. What might have been. The Knights and Panthers needed just one more win to set up the 192nd and last game of season 2019 as a battle for a play-off berth. It's a bloody shame for these powerhouses of local talent and support. All the same, both had plenty of chances to find that elusive two points. Now it's in the lap of the players how determined they are when they front up to pre-season in two months' time. Watching the semi-finals from the lounge chair will be a nagging reminder, at least for the next month, of what could have been. What can be in 2020, is up to them.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY:
- Emergency Stockton sandbagging at Barrie Crescent Reserve to begins Saturday: City of Newcastle
- Special Commission of Inquiry confidential volume released after archbishop successfully appeals conviction
- Salamander Bay stabbing: mother makes failed bid for bail
- Newcastle 500 Supercars: State's Chief Health Officer sounds warning on noise levels
- Tony Butterfield: Knights faltered when it mattered most