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The Newcastle Knights are an Australian professional rugby league football club based in Newcastle, New South Wales. They compete in Australasia's premier rugby league competition, the National Rugby League (NRL) premiership. Playing in red and blue, the Knights joined the top tier competition in 1988, 79 years after the previous Newcastle based team, the Newcastle Rebels had departed the Sydney competition with the formation of a separate league competition based in the Newcastle region.
The Newcastle Knights entered the NSWRL competition in 1988 with Allan McMahon as coach. Newcastle had previously been invited to field a team in the NSWRL competition for the 1982 season, but declined, worried it would weaken the area's local league competition. The Canberra Raiders were admitted to the 1982 competition in their place.
The team was a success from the start, becoming one of the most popular clubs in its first season. By 1990, the team was strong enough to enter a play-off for fifth spot.
The club won their first competition, the Nissan Sevens, in 1991 and made the playoffs in 1992, where they were beaten by the St. George Dragons. The Knights made the semi-finals again in 1995 when the competition became the Australian Rugby League, and won the reserve grade premiership the same year.
The club stayed loyal to the Australian Rugby League when Rupert Murdoch started Super League in an attempt to win pay television rights to rugby league—this decision was very popular in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley areas. News Limited formed the Hunter Mariners to compete with the Knights in the one and only season of Super League in Australia, but the Mariners failed to win much support in the area.
From 1997–2003, the Knights made seven finals series in a row. The Knights won the 1997 Australian Rugby League premiership, defeating the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22–16 in the Grand Final, with Robbie O'Davis winning the Clive Churchill Medal. The match is best remembered for its classic finish – Darren Albert breaking a 16 all deadlock with his try 7 seconds from fulltime. This win was a huge morale boost to the district following the closure of the area's biggest employer, the BHP Steelworks, being announced the same year. Seventy per cent of the winning squad were Newcastle juniors.
The following season, Knights players Robbie O'Davis, Wayne Richards and Adam MacDougall tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs; however, all three maintained they started use after the Knights' 1997 victory. The three were suspended, despite O'Davis' claims the club was not notified his drug was banned until after his positive test, and MacDougall's medical reason for taking the steroids (his usage continued after he completed his suspension, now approved by the NRL). In addition, the Knights terminated Wayne Richards' contract.
In 1998, the Knights finished equal on competition points with the Brisbane Broncos, but finished second on points differential. In 1999, the Knights were in with a huge chance going into the final rounds only to lose their final two games of the regular season to finish 7th, before being knocked out a week later by Parramatta. The Knights came third in 2000, followed by a National Rugby League Premiership victory over theParramatta Eels in 2001, with Andrew Johns winning the Clive Churchill Medal. Newcastle were handed heavy underdog status, but shocked the Eels with a 24–0 halftime lead, and eventual 30–24 win. In 2002, the club finished equal with the New Zealand Warriors on competition points but, once again, finished second in the minor premiership due to inferior points differential.
Andrew Johns won the Dally M Medal for best player in the National Rugby League twice in a row in 1998 and 1999, and won an unprecedented third Dally M Medal in 2002. In addition, Johns also won the Provan-Summons Medal (the people's choice award for player of the year) four years in a row from 1998 to 2001, the best performance by any player in the history of the award.
In 2004, injuries plagued the club, with Andrew Johns and Ben Kennedy out for extended periods of time. The club missed the finals, finishing 10th despite strong performances from Matthew Gidley, Kurt Gidley and NSW State of Origin captain, Danny Buderus.
Following further injuries and a lack of experienced players, the club failed to win a single match in the first half of the 2005 premiership, losing 13 consecutive matches—the worst start to a season by any club since the 1960s. That losing streak finally came to an end with a win away from home over the Penrith Panthers when they came from 14–0 down at halftime to win 28–24. In a tribute to the club's followers, crowds remained high throughout the losing streak, and while the Knights were unable to avoid finishing last, fans were rewarded for their stoicism as the team managed to win eight of their last eleven games, including a six game winning streak brought to an end in round 26 by the St George Illawarra Dragons.
2006 boded well for the Novocastrians, with the side recruiting Great Britain and Irish winger Brian Carney and former Raider Luke Davico, as well as re-signing 2005 recruit Milton Thaiday and managing to retain the many promising young juniors (led by the likes of Brad Tighe, Jarrod Mullen, Reegan Tanner, and Riley Brown) that have come through in the club's worst ever season. Newcastle ultimately finished the season in fourth position, a stunning reversal in form, but were eliminated from the finals after losing in the Semi Final to theBrisbane Broncos in the worst possible way going down 50–6.
Prior to the 2006 season kick-off it was announced that the club's longest serving coach, Michael Hagan would depart the club following the 2006 season to begin a three year contract with the Parramatta Eels. Ironically, during the week of the 2006 season-opening game against Parramatta, the Knights confirmed Parramatta coach Brian Smith would take over coaching duties in 2007.
2007 was a year of turmoil for the club both on and off the field. After making a promising start to the season with victories over contenders such as the Canterbury Bulldogs – the club and rugby league world was rocked by the shock retirement of Andrew Johns. The departure of their captain and most influential player had an obvious effect on the team, and although they managed to stay in touch with the top eight until the last third of the season, their season was irreparably damaged by his absence. In addition to this – the Knights endured the worst injury toll in the 2007 season – fielding thirty seven players in first grade by season's end.
The club also struggled off-field, with Brian Smith's decision to release players such as Clint Newton, Kirk Reynoldson, and Josh Perry meeting with displeasure from the Sydney media and some sections of the Newcastle support base. Newton's defection to Melbourne and Reynoldson's threats of legal action over the club refusing to play him in the fifteen games required to trigger his fourth contract year saw the club's reputation dragged through the mud. The Daily Telegraph campaigned strongly for the sacking of Smith whilst Bluetongue owner John Singleton also threatened legal action after the releases lead to a multi-million dollar advertising campaign being cancelled. To cap it all off, Andrew Johns again made the press late in the season after being arrested for ecstasy possession in the United Kingdom and confessing to having been a drug addict for the entirety of his playing career.
Before the final round of 2007, Tab Sportsbet's Glenn Munsie was reported in The Daily Telegraph saying that the Knights were certainties for the wooden spoon and "it was pointless taking money on the wooden spoon gong given Newcastle would be firmly planted at the bottom of the ladder by the end of the weekend. Despite these pressures, the Knights managed to avoid a second wooden spoon in three years – offloading the dreaded piece of 'silverware' to the Penrith Panthers with a last round victory over the Wests Tigers.
2008 was a resurgence year for the Knights. They were unlucky to miss out on the finals, going down to the Brisbane Broncos 24–2 in the final round of the competition, which allowed the New Zealand Warriors (who easily overcame the Parramatta Eels) to take 8th place.
The Knights started the 2009 season convincingly, they were placed 2nd in the ladder at round 10. During the season the Knights equalled their best home winning streak record with 9 wins, equalling the previous 9 wins recorded in 1995. Towards the end of the season coach Brian Smith announced he was leaving the Knights to join the troubled Sydney Roosters in 2010 after their horrific season. Over the next few weeks assistant coach Rick Stone was announced as the new coach of the Knights. The Knights toward the end of the season lost 3 games in a row, which put them in doubt for the finals, which they had looked like making all year. They then had an outstanding comeback to beat eventual grand finalists, Parramatta up the ladder. They finished the year 7th out of 16 after losing to the Bulldogs in week one of the finals. Rick Stone said he was looking forward to his first off-season in charge. On the 16th, December 2009 it was announced player Danny Wicks was involved in a drug bust involving amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy. He was stood down. Eventually Wicks terminated his own contract as he didn't want to keep bringing shame the club and sponsors.
For the 2010 season the Knights signed McDonalds and Coca-Cola as major sponsors. In March 2010 Chris Houston was served with notice to attend court on charges of supplying ecstacy and cocaine. He was stood down indefinitely.
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