It was a season to forget for the Knights in 2022 with their next crucial campaign for the club in their bid to turn their misfortunes around.
Knights coach Adam O’Brien has worked to do over the summer to get the club back into finals contention after the side slumped to 14th with just six wins.
NRL.com reflects on some of the talking points from the 2022 season for the Knights and what’s in place to make an improvement next year.
Put’s commitment to start
It was all publicly played out and at times a media circus but on April 20 the re-signing of Kalyn Ponga was one of the best moments of the season both on and off the field.
Ponga’s five-year contract extension came at a time where he was mulling over whether to stay in Newcastle or sign with the Dolphins ahead of their inaugural season.
There’s no question Ponga is Newcastle’s most important player but the 24-year-old endured his most difficult season to date with just 14 appearances and multiple head knocks that put his immediate future in question.
The Knights were never in finals contention towards the end of the year so having Ponga rest up and be available for pre-season training in November will ensure he gets a full summer under his belt.
From there the club and fans alike will want to see the highly rated fullback lead from the front with a breakout season.
Dom Young bags long-range double
Young talent time
There weren’t many consistent performers in the Knights line-up in 2022 but Dom Young gave fans plenty of highlights and hope leading into next season.
Originally scouted by former recruitment guru Alex McKinnon in England as a teenager, Young excelled in his second year in Australia with 14 tries in 20 appearances.
The 21-year-old was more traditionally a center growing up but has made the wing spot his own and more recently has starred for England on international debut at the World Cup.
Young is tied to the Knights until the end of the 2023 season but his performances are sure to have the club looking to extend his current deal.
brailey due for luck
Another positive for the Knights in 2022 was the return of Jayden Brailey from a ruptured achilles in the last pre-season.
Brailey’s time at the Knights since joining from Cronulla has been a frustrating one with an ACL injury compounded by the freak accident last January.
He got back on the paddock in Round 17, playing in eight games and in a personal milestone he managed four try assists – the same amount he recorded during the 2021 season when he played 23 matches.
If he can string games together next year the Knights will have better direction around the ruck, something they lacked particularly in attack.
Lee’s record-breaking parting gift
Edrick Lee’s five-try haul against the Titans – a club record – was another rare highlight in a struggling 2022 campaign.
Lee surpassed the likes of Andrew Johns, Cooper Vuna, Darren Albert and Aku Uate (all four) for most tries for the Knights in a match when he crossed for five in Round 16.
The former Maroons winger is off to the Dolphins next season with the left wing spot up for grabs – a position that brings success for the side.
Enari Tuala spent some time on the left edge alongside Bradman Best but defensively that channel struggled.
Knights coach Adam O’Brien has suggested Dane Gagai could make a permanent move to the wing in 2023.
Edrick Lee’s historic night
World Cup sacrifices
The Knights have only Dom Young at the World Cup with several knocking back the chance to be selected for their nations in a bid to ensure their 2023 campaign improves.
Only time will tell whether that pays off for the team and individuals.
The Saifiti brothers – Daniel and Jacob – knocked back the opportunity to play for Fiji while Kalyn Ponga ruled himself out of contention for the Kangaroos.
Tyson Frizell (Wales), Bradman Best (Wales) David Klemmer (Scotland) were all approached by their heritage nations but also turned down the option.
O’Brien’s brutal honesty
Many believe Adam O’Brien might be too honest about Newcastle’s 2022 season just gone, and where they’re at since he arrived at the club three years ago.
However, his thoughts must be a lot better to listen to than some of the cliché responses other coaches in the NRL can offer.
O’Brien knows the 2023 campaign is crucial to not only his own progression at the club but helping lift the side into a consistent finals team.
O’Brien: It’s going to take some time
He can be helped by having a consistent lot of playmakers each week. The injuries to Kalyn Ponga and Jayden Brailey, plus late arrival of Anthony Milford, only had the side on the back foot.
Injuries have been a nightmare in Newcastle with a clean bill of health only going to help their chances.
Speaking more on recruits, the Knights have a duo turning up in their engine room with Adam Elliott and Jack Hetherington set to don the red and blue.
The Knights will lose several from their forward pack for next season including Mitchell Barnett (Warriors) Sauaso Sue and young props Pasami Saulo (Raiders) and Jirah Momoisea (Eels).
Elliott resurrected his career at the Raiders this year during a brief 12-month stint and will bring to Newcastle a strong work ethic either on an edge or ability to ball play in the middle.
Hetherington is coming off a shoulder reconstruction at the Bulldogs and as has been the case throughout his career, could be an astute purchase if he can continue to improve his tackle technique in the Hunter.
Elliott into some wide open spaces
Brooks chase worth Gamble
The arrival of Tyson Gamble will add a bit of aggression the Knights halves lacked last season while if reports are correct and Luke Brooks lands at the club, suddenly they’ll have a whole new look.
Mitchell Pearce’s departure from the Hunter 12 months ago left the Knights a short playmaker throughout the 2022 campaign, particularly a leader of his caliber.
Adam Clune tried hard with his opportunities but was never signed by the club to replace Pearce in the first place.
The potential signing of Brooks will give the Wests Tigers playmaker a fresh start, something many believe he needs after more than a decade at the joint venture.
Newcastle’s attacking play will change almost immediately should he end up in the Hunter.
There is also talk Kalyn Ponga may end up in the halves if a final pursuit of Brooks falls short over the summer.
Home ground woes
Newcastle won’t have to look far for motivation in 2023 with their fan base continuing to show up despite a season that included just two wins on home turf.
Some of the side’s losses at McDonald Jones Stadium would have turned off even the most loyal of supporters, but the Knights still had an average crowd of 16,890 – the fifth highest in the NRL.
Fans had some reason to celebrate towards the end of the year, however, with the club’s NRLW team winning their first title in just their second season.
The women’s side was built on defensive efforts in particular to make the community proud each week, something the men’s outfit really struggled with in 2022.
Young guys given opportunity
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for some of the youngsters coming through the Knights system with teenagers Krystian Mapapalangi and Oryn Keeley blooded in first grade towards the end of the season.
Mapapalangi showed some positive signs in his two matches and is a player expected to place more pressure on the top liners in the first-grade squad.
Keeley was handed an NRL debut with only a few minutes’ notice but is considered a long-term prospect for the club.