A Brief History of the Newcastle Knights
The Newcastle Knights joined the ARL during 1988 along with the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Giants (who later became the Sea Gulls and then the Chargers). Although they finished low on the ladder, they were a team feared by the opposition for their 'hit it up' tactics where khamikaze forwards threw themselves at the line. One thing was evident from the start, Novacastrians loved their footy and Marathon Stadium was never short of fans. In my views, it was the addition of Andrew and Matthew Johns that lifted the Knights from tough opposition to premiership contenders but the performances of other players such as Paul Harrogan, Marc Glanville, Billy Peden and Tony Butterfield made a major contribution.
It was in 1997 that the Knights got their first bite at the Rugby League cherry. With the competition divided into two the Newcastle Knights made it through to their first Grand Final in a final series where no one was sure who would be there. Miracles and heroics are what lifted Newcastle into the Grand Final. Coming off an embarassing loss to premiership favourites Manly, the Newcastle Knights came up against heavyweights North Sydney. All locked up with a minute to go it was Matthew Johns, field goal specialist, who potted over a one pointer to secure Newcastle a Grand Final berth.
Newcastle were the underdogs, they hadn't beaten Manly in their three previous meetings and had never been close in Sydney. But they had spirit and a lot of motivation to win. Newcastle had been hit hard by the closing of BHP and people needed something to lift their spirits. Rupert Murdoch's Hunter Mariners were also starting to gain popularity in the area and the Knights needed a miracle. It started off poorly and by half time the Newcastle Knights were down 16-8. But a gutsy come back with a Robbie O'Davis try had them all level. The game became a field goal contest with Cliff Lyons missing one and Matthew Johns missing two. With thirty seconds to go Manly made a mistake coming off their own line and Newcastle had one more chance to crack the line. A draw would mean a rematch and Newcastle couldn't hope to keep up with Manly next time. Andrew Johns, star halfback, got the ball but neglected to pass it to Matthew and instead threw it out to the wing of Darren Albert. The light shone and a gap opened right before him. He sprinted through and despite the best efforts of Mark Carrol crashed in under the posts with a mere six seconds to go! The scenes of adulation was amazing and the successful Newcastle Knights returned home to thousands of screaming fans.
The season of 1998 meant a united competition and Super League premiers Brisbane to contend with. Newcastle matched Brisbane blow for blow all season, losing only five matches and finishing equal first. It was for and against that prevented Newcastle from claiming their first minor premiership. The finals brought a nightmare for Newcastle who lost their first game and bowed out in extra time against Canterbury. The Broncos went on to claim the 1998 trophy.
1999 was a season of ups and downs. The Knights played in the double-header at Stadium Australia and started the season brilliantly by thrashing Manly 41-18 in front of a massive crowd. The season continued and with six rounds to go were on an eight game winning streak. But an upset victory by Balmain ended the run followed by an embarassing loss to the Brisbane Broncos. The Knights bounced back brilliantly, scoring their biggest win ever with a 60-0 thrashing on South Sydney and a 22-20 win over premiership contenders St George/Illawarra. This game had similarities to the 1997 Grand Final. With a couple of minutes to go St George Illawarra lead 20-18 and tried for a short drop out. It appeared to have come off but the referee called it back for a knock on. In the ensuing set of six Matthew Gidley threw his custom flick pass to Darren Albert who dived into the corner to secure the Knights a victory. But the next week was a nightmare. Visiting Auckland the Knights capitulated to their biggest loss in their short history, being thrashed 42-0. The final game of the season was little better as the Knights surrendered their half time lead to lose 34-16 to Sydney City. Finishing seventh, the Knights came up against the powerful Parramatta side at Parramatta Stadium. They held a slender lead at half time but failed to capitilize, bowing out of the 1999 season 30-16.
If any season brought Newcastle as close to 1997 as possible, it was 2000 when they made the Major Semi Final as favourites against the Sydney Roosters. Although the Knights were fairly inconsistent they were in a comfortable position for the majority of the season. They suffered a controversial loss to St George/Illawarra in round 21 when two legitimate tries were disallowed. The referee later apologized but the mistakes made by the video referee brought them under further fire in a season where mistakes often cost the better side the game. They cruised into the finals with three wins over Cronulla, Wests and Canterbury. Coming up against reigning premiers Melbourne at Marathon Stadium was a daunting task and the Knights were behind 10-8 at half time. Andrew Johns took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half. Not only did he lead his team to victory but he also secured himself the Australian Halfback spot over rival Brett Kimmorley. Coming off their 30-16 win, the Knights were to meet Sydney at SFS. Over 25'000 Knights fans made the long trip up to Sydney for what everyone was tipping as a certain Knights win after the Roosters poor finals form. The Knights scored three tries in the first half and lead 16-2 at the break. It all looked certain until an incorrect play the ball penalty was ruled against Billy Peden. In the following fifteen minutes teh Roosters raced in four tries to take the score to 26-16. Exciting Knights winger Timana Tahu scored late in the game to give the score some respectability but it was all over. The thousands of fans returned to Newcastle dissapointed. Outgoing players Tony Butterfield (retired), Peter Shiels, David Fairleigh, Matthew Johns and Paul Rauhihi (other clubs) had ended their season in dissapointment.
2001 was a promising season for the Knights, and despite a four game hiccup in the absence of Andrew Johns, many still considered it to be the best chance they've had since 1997, especially if Andrew Johns was firing. The season started off brilliantly, with the Knights downing premiership heavyweights Sydney and Parramatta, and after an embarrasing loss to Brisbane they then continued on an eight game winning streak, downing many more fancied rivals. The injury of Andrew Johns against St George/Illawarra showed up the Knights' reliance upon the classy halfback, and after narrowling beating the 13th and 14th teams, the Knight's fell to four losses (including embarassing defeats from Parramatta and Canterbury) before a triumphant Joey return which lead to a 44-0 annihilation of the Bronocs, and a healthy win over the Storm. His presence in the tough game against New Zealand was undoubetdly important, whilst his 34 point haul against Canberra secured a victory the Knights may not have won in other circumstances. Another Johns absence after the loss to Cronulla, left Newcastle struggling as they went down to Wests and St George/Illawarra, and looked like finishing 4th. The return of Johns, as always, lifted the Knights over the Cowboys in a scrappy clash, before annihiliating the hapless Panthers to secure 3rd. The finals kicked off against the side who ended the 2000 campaign, Sydney. Despite coming off a narrow loss to premiership favourites Parramatta, the Roosters failed to fire, and the Knights crushed them 40-6. Despite this emphatic win, the Knights were still equal in premiership better with the Cronulla Sharks, who had defeated them 49-30 only a few weeks prior. As fate would have it, Newcastle met Cronulla in the Major Semi Final, and despite trailing at half time, managed to win 18-10 with the aid of an Andrew Johns fightback. Going into the Grand Final as rank outsiders (as they did in 1997), Newcastle came out firing in the first half, and lead Parramatta 24-0 at the break. The second half was more even, with Newcastle's sole try enough to stave off a spirited Parramatta comeback. Once again it was Andrew Johns who lead from the fore, with Ben Kennedy and Billy Peden also having strong games. Another upset Grand Final, and as Sterlo says 'Could this be the start of another dynasty?'
2001 Representatives:Mark Hughes, Adam MacDougall, Andrew Johns, Ben Kennedy, Matthew Gidley and Danny Buderus.
Nissan Sevens: 1991
Coca Cola World Sevens: 1996
Club Championship: 1992
Reserve Grade Finalists: 1992, 1998, 1999
Reserve Grade Grand Finalists: 1993, 1994, 1999
Reserve Grade Premiers: 1995
First Grade Finalists: 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
First Grade Optus Cup Premiers: 1997
Most Tries in a Match:Darren Albert (4) in 46-8 win over Wests in 2000, Adam MacDougall (4) in 37 to 30 win over New Zealand in 2001 and Andrew Johns (4) in 52-26 win over Canberra in 2001
Most Points Scored in a club game: Andrew Johns (34) in 52 to 26 win over Canberra, Round 21-2001.
Most Tries in a Season:Timana Tahu (20)
Biggest Win:60-0 over South Sydney at Marathon Stadium in 1999
Biggest Loss:42-0 against Auckland at Ericsson Stadium in 1999
Longest Winning Streak:9 Matches in 1995
Longest Losing Streak:7 Matches in 1991
Most Points Scored in an Australian Test Match:Andrew Johns (32) against Papua New Guinea
Rothman's Medal Winner:Marc Glanville in 1989
Clive Churchill Medal Winner:Robbie O'Davis in 1997
Test Captain:Paul Harrogan in 1995
World Cup Captain:Paul Harrogan in 1996
Dally M Player on the Year:Andrew Johns 1998 and 1999