Bad luck for Knights coach could drag on - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Bad luck for Knights coach could drag on

By Todd Balym 26/02/2009 02:47:32 PM Comments (0)

Third time lucky or bad luck coming in threes?

It is easy to look at Newcastle's 2009 NRL prospects either way, but coach Brian Smith prefers the optimistic approach.

"If we get a fair crack at it I think it is not beyond us," said Smith.

Fair hasn't exactly been the hand dealt to Smith in his two seasons at Newcastle.

He lost the game's greatest halfback Andrew Johns to retirement just weeks into his first season, and last year battled with injury problems that restricted captain Danny Buderus (15 games), rep forward Steve Simpson (12) and key recruit Ben Cross (eight) most of the year.

Despite the setback the Knights finished just one win outside the top eight, their 28 points the highest non-qualifying tally since 1999.

To add to Newcastle's drama their three World Cup players - Kurt Gidley (Australia), Wes Naiqama and Akuila Uate (both Fiji) - all returned from rep duty with leg injuries that restricted their pre-seasons.

However Smith couldn't be happier with how the summer has gone for Newcastle.

The players have exceeded the previous benchmarks in fitness testing and new recruits Ben Rogers, Isaac De Gois and George Ndaira have slotted seamlessly into the program.

"I think we're in a bit better position than we were last year entering the season," Smith said.

"The playing roster is stabilised so it's an easy fit for everyone at the club.

"We've not made any great changes to the way we want to play. We've been able to work hard on what we've done and made it better rather than try to incorporate something new again.

"Everybody has had a great pre-season, a lot of guys did big stints in training and found significant improvements.

"With the young guys we have in the club we feel like we're in a good position if we get a fair crack at it and work at it."

The biggest problem facing Smith is how to cover the loss of inspirational leader Buderus to Super League champions Leeds Rhinos.

With Buderus regarded as one of the hardest-working hookers in the world, Smith joked the NSW captain was so good he had to replace him with two men - Cronulla's De Gois and South Sydney's Ndaira.

De Gois, a 24-year-old who didn't miss an NRL game in two seasons with the Sharks, is a player Smith has high hopes for in 2009.

"It is pretty hard for any one guy to (replace Buderus) but if there's anyone around who is a younger version of Bedsy it's Isaac," said Smith.

"He is very enthusiastic and prides himself on his work efforts.

"(But) it's no one guy who is going to do that job, we have to all take some of Bedsy's enthusiasm, toughness and selflessness and that stuff he brought to the table and get everyone to chip in a bit."

The positive effect of two years of injury to key players has been giving greater responsibility to young stars earlier in their careers.

Players like Zeb Taia, Chris Houston, Cory Paterson, Danny Wicks have stood out in the forward pack, while halves Jarrod Mullen, Luke Walsh and Scott Dureau have stepped up and are ready to take more control.

Smith said how much those young players grow in 2009, along with consistent performances from Simpson, Cross and new skipper Kurt Gidley, will be critical to their success.

"There's about 10 or 12 kids and most of them either had good moments or really good years last year but it's where they can get to this year that will have a big bearing," he said.

"Along with injuries to (Kurt) Gidley and Simpson and Cross etc. If we can manage to keep them on the field and get some further improvements out of the other blokes we will be somewhere up there with them."

Maybe, with a bit of luck.

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