A horror start and diabolical finish will forever tarnish the 2019 season for Knights fans as a the club wilted badly under the spotlight of greater expectation.
Despite boasting five State of Origin players and winning six consecutive games to be in the top four at the halfway point, a finals campaign was butchered for a sixth straight year, leaving plenty of supporters disgruntled enough to boycott Old Boys' Day against the Titans in the penultimate round.
By that point, Nathan Brown was gone but the problems within the squad run far deeper than the coach with the players' commitment, resilience and pride in the jersey called into question at crucial times.
Their 11th place finish paralleled that of 2018 with an embarrassing final round flogging at the hands of the Penrith Panthers the final insult to the club's diehards.
Coming up with our Top 8 negatives for 2019 wasn't difficult. The hard part was working out what to leave out.
1. Mentally soft
Not showing enough fight and resilience and giving up when it gets tough - it doesn't get any worse for an athlete to be accused of being mentally soft or weak.
Club legend Andrew Johns wasn't the only one to point the finger in that regard and even the players themselves agreed that was the case after several embarrassing capitulations during the season.
The club was built on a foundation of pride in the jersey and always having a real dig but those standards slipped badly at times in 2019. The first warning shot came with a terrible defensive effort against the Titans on the Gold Coast in round 6 but it festered again later in the season against the Sydney Roosters, Manly, Wests Tigers and ultimately the Panthers.
2. BROWN'S DEMISE
Removing a coach, particularly one as universally liked as Nathan Brown, is never easy but this was messy and ultimately handled poorly.
The knives were out for Brown internally mid-season and maybe even earlier than that and ultimately, when he got wind the club was looking to potentially replace him and had already spoken to an alternative, Brown fell on his sword before he was sacked to make it easy on CEO Phil Gardner.
The timing was poor and the whole process condemned but the weak response from his key senior players with their season on the line against the Wests Tigers with three games left and a top eight spot still within reach proved Brown's decision to walk before being pushed was the right one.
3. RAMIEN'S EXIT
After a breakout season with Cronulla in 2018, Jesse Ramien arrived with much fanfare but his season never got out of second gear. In the end, his dislike for the place got so bad that Brown offered him a way out and he walked with more than a year to run on his contract.
Peeved off about not seeing any ball early in the season with the Knights attack focused predominantly down the opposite left edge, Ramien's disquiet grew when a management issue developed and there was already media speculation he wanted out after just a handful of games. The fact he was on a $250,000 contract and was being told he could get much more money if he was playing elsewhere didn't help his focus.
When Brown failed to publicly endorse him for Origin at a time when his club form was mediocre, his relationship with the coach deteriorated. It was downhill from there despite constant attempts by the club's welfare department to sort through his issues.
4. TIGERS' TORTURE
No performance defined the season more then the Tigers' 46-4 thrashing of the Knights in round 23 at Campbelltown Stadium.
It rounded out one of the most tumultuous weeks in the club's history, started by Brown's resignation four days earlier and ending with a highly embarrassing scoreline that ended their finals hopes and saw the coach decide to walk out completely just a few days later.
What hurt fans the most was the complete lack of effort from their team given what was at stake on that Saturday night.
A finals spot was still a strong possibility with a win but virtually from the Tigers' opening attacking set, where they took the ball 75 metres and scored at the end of it, the Knights weren't in it.
5. PONGA SHIFT
It was viewed as controversial and a gamble and it took just three and a half games to prove it was the wrong move.
After a dazzling debut season at fullback in 2018, Kalyn Ponga's move to five-eighth to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves was a major talking point. In theory, Ponga being closer to the action and getting his hands on the ball more clearly had merit.
But a pre-season centred around helping make it work amounted to nothing when Ponga was shifted back to fullback mid-way through round four against the Dragons. The increased defensive requirements of playing in the front line proved a challenge for Ponga as he was heavily targeted but so too were the playmaking structures that impacted on his instinctive nature.
The failed Ponga-to-six experiment ended up having widespread implications for the team during the season. The lack of a specialist five-eighth and the mixed form of a number of players who were tried there did not help cohesion.
Mitchell Pearce had as many as five playmaking partners at various stages and the constant chopping and changing did little to build sustainable combinations in arguably one of the most important positions.
The fact Nathan Ross and Slade Griffin did not lace on a boot all season and centre Tautau Moga's return from a fourth knee reconstruction was underwhelming to say the least did not help with selection consistency.
It meant Sione Mata'utia bounced around between the backrow, middle forward and centre positions all season while the utilities Connor Watson and Kurt Mann were also tried in three or even four positions at various times.
7. HOME RECORD
Making McDonald Jones Stadium a fortress - it's beginning to sound like a broken record.
Unlike the glory years, the stadium no longer holds any fears for rival teams coming to Newcastle. While the club's home support was outstanding in 2019 and one of our Top eight positives for the year, averaging more than 19,000 did not translate into a big winning percentage. The Knights finished with a 50 percent record of six wins and six losses. The most notable win was the 38-12 demolition of the Sydney Roosters in May but they lost three of their first four at home and dropped games to the lowly Bulldogs and the Tigers later in the year.
8. NO FINALS
The ultimate goal, playing finals footy, down the gurgler for a sixth straight year. Tough to take when hopes were so high.
Knight season review - Part 3: The future.
The fans on Twitter have their say on the negatives from the Knights' season.
- The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of backbone and resilience. It's hard to cop. @Maitland Mumbler
- The game against the Tigers, the game against the Titans, the handling of Browny's sacking. not backing up the talk and attitude - it stunk this year. @Lauder1986
- No 1 would be Phil Gardner's sacking of Nathan Brown but we know some leading players were behind that too. @gaznewy
- Not reaching the finals. Not performing consistently. Referees determining some games. Losing good juniors. @JSP2283
- Jesse Ramien was nothing short of diabolical, the entire lack of professionalism from both coach and player shows where the club is. @JezRuz
- The way Browny's departure was handled. Pearce losing his mojo at back-end of season. Ponga getting lazy. @CAweir1993
- Biggest disappointment is getting your hopes up of finals only to be let down. @shane_puller
- Ramien's exit and the backflip of the club trying to save him. @Cameron97822403
- Sacking Browny, showing no heart when top 8 in sight. @bozza1970
- Kalyn at five-eighth, inability to settle on spine positions, horror start, end of season capitulation, Browny's exit. @NovoClarkstrian
- I was very disappointed with the response to any adversity. Good frontrunners but if we fell behind or it was close late, they just wilted. @Gazza_121
- Misusing and losing Jesse Ramien. @JZouroudis
- troy pezet. @notelvey05
- The team gave up on multiple occasions. @DavidBalfou
- The lack of ticker and pride in the jersey, the horrendous handling of the Brown sacking, the roles that Pezet and Isaac Moses seem to be playing in the running of the club. @KitaandMat
- The jesse ramien saga. The poor showings against the Titans away, Tigers away and Penrith away. @tomanthony90
- 50 percent win rate at home after our reserve seats went up in price by 40 percent. @mickmaher83
- After the biggest rebuild, the coach, players and club all failed miserably to live up to expectations. @mjburkill
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