Nathan BrownARMED with a remodelled squad and a modified, more explosive game plan, Newcastle coach Nathan Brown is confident the Knights can prove thecritics wrong.
One day out from the NRL season kick-off, the Knights have been all but written off with most of the game’s experts having condemned Brown’s men to the easybeats basket.
Betting companies have the Knights listed at $151 outsiders to win the premiership.They are$1.60 favourites to collect a third straight wooden spoon and a $5.50 chance to topple the Warriors in Sunday’s season opener in Auckland –the longest-priced team in round one.
Brown said the scepticism was based on what people “have seen in the past two years”.
“I can understand why they are saying what they are saying,” he said. “We would like to think we can do better than what people are saying.We feel our younger players definitely have a lot of growth. And we feel the players whowe have brought to the club have added something extra as well.”
Confirmation of the group’s improvement came in a 44-0 rout over a strong Canberra Raiders outfit in a trial at Seiffert Oval.
“We felt we had a reasonable trial performance against Canberra,” Brown said.
“We do know it was a trial and Canberra were without some good players but we did get some confidence out of it. We are certainly in better shape than where we were this time last year.”
New arrivals Jamie Buhrer (back row), Josh Starling (prop) and Ken Sio (wing) have been named in the starting side for the Warriors clash. Anthony Tupou is on an extended bench, while Rory Kostjasyn is recovering from throat surgery.
Apart from the young tyros and fresh faces,Brown said skipper Trent Hodkinson was“like a new player”and strike weapons Dane Gagai, Sione Mata’utia and Nathan Ross were playing in positions to“do their best work”.
Hodkinson hasbenefited from a“tailored” pre-season and Brown said the early signs were“very good”.
“Hodko has his own expectations,” Brown said.“We saw in the Canberra game when the forwards do a good job what a great job he can do.As long as Hodko is running freely, I’m sure he will provide a lot of good stuff for the club.”
Brown said the 11 rookies whomade their NRL debuts in 2016 were “bigger, stronger and faster”after what was, in many cases, their first, full pre-season.
“The biggest thing for us was improving physically in the pre-season,” he said.“The reality for younger players is from pre-season-one-to-two-to-three, if they are making the right sacrifices and working hard enough, they naturally improve.We have worked on things in the pre-season that we needed to improve and put a lot of time into one or two key areas.”
Brown is an unabashed fan of the Raiders and Penrith and the “footy” they play and indicated a similar shift at the Knights.
“We are not reinventing the game but we have made some slight adjustments to get the best out of our talent,” he said.
“Our back-row this year is probably not the biggest back-row, but we would like to think there is plenty of football in there in Mitch Barnett, Jamie Buhrer, Sione Mata’utia and young Sam Stoneand Luke Yates.They have all got a bit of footy in them and a bit of leg speed.
“Us trying to bash and barge our way to victory all the time with a smaller side in some areas is not going to be the smartest thing. Those guys have plenty of footy in them and plenty of leg speed. I’d like to think they will use it to the best of their advantage.”
The Knights face a tough task first up in Auckland where they have one win in the past 11 seasons.
“I can’t comment on the other 10 years, I can only comment on last year,” Brown said.“I think we are better equipped than we were last year but it is going to take a 17-man team effort.”