THIS was supposed to be the year of the Newcastle Knights’ renaissance under the ownership and coaching dynamic duo of Nathan Tinkler and Wayne Bennett.
Perhaps it still will be.
But after nine rounds, there are some disturbing signs that the memorable season members and supporters had hoped for threatens to deteriorate into another year to forget.
Knights captain Kurt Gidley learnt yesterday that he would need season-ending shoulder surgery and, though expected, the confirmation came a day after his teammates were outmuscled in a 24-6 loss to former coach Brian Smith’s Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium.
Star signing Darius Boyd broke down in the dressing room at half-time against the Roosters and had to be consoled by Bennett before returning to the field for the second half.
Boyd’s tears, captured by television cameras, and the loss of Gidley for the season epitomise the team’s underwhelming start of just four wins from nine games to be ninth
As they prepare for their next assignment, against Johnathan Thurston’s North Queensland Cowboys at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, other troubling issues include:
? The long-term health of veteran hooker Danny Buderus, whose chronic Achilles tendonitis has flared again and is likely to hinder him for the rest of the season;
? An inconsistent attack that has yielded just 24 tries in nine games;
? Hard-hitting forward Joel Edwards faces a one-game suspension after being charged with a grade-one dangerous throw on Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce;
? Back-rower Alex McKinnon must pass a CogSport test this week before being cleared to play against the Cowboys, after being knocked out in a tackle by Roosters hooker Jake Friend.
Flying in the face of any apparent crisis, Knights players were in good spirits at a paddle-boarding recovery session at Carrington yesterday.
The Knights have closed ranks around Boyd, choosing not to explain the two-time premiership-winner’s emotional meltdown on Sunday other than to say ‘‘Darius is fine’’, though playmaker Jarrod Mullen gave some insight.
‘‘My parents told me that, but I didn’t see him at half-time,’’ Mullen said yesterday.
‘‘He wears his heart on his sleeve, Darius, and obviously he’s trying hard like everyone else.
‘‘He was a bit upset but we’ll be right next week.’’
Asked if he felt for the 2010 Churchill medallist, who is yet to consistently produce the form that has made him one of the first players picked for Queensland and Australia, Mullen said: ‘‘I think everyone’s struggling for form at the moment.
‘‘We’re trying hard. It’s not through a lack of trying, it’s through a lack of execution. Once we start executing our plays better ... get those silly errors out of our game, we’re going to be in most games.’’
After seeing shoulder specialist Des Bokor in Sydney yesterday, Gidley tweeted: ‘‘I’m really really disappointed to announce that my season is unfortunately over. Need a shoulder reconstruction. Devastating ...’’
The 29-year-old NSW and Australian utility dislocated his left shoulder in Newcastle’s 34-14 victory over Penrith last week – the third time he had suffered the injury in the space of one year.
Buderus was ruled out for three to four weeks after aggravating tendonitis in his right Achilles against Penrith.
The 34-year-old former NSW and Australian captain has been ruled out of contention for the first State of Origin game in Melbourne on May 23, and will not play against the Cowboys on Saturday, but he is scheduled to return for the Knights against the Titans at Hunter Stadium on May 26.
The Knights have a bye in round 11 (May 18-21).
Even if Buderus recovers sufficiently to play against the Cowboys, he faces recurrences throughout the season due to the painful nature of the condition and the frenetic way he plays the game.
Newcastle’s inconsistency is reflected by a form line of loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss.
Their defence is among the best in the NRL, but the Knights have struggled to establish any attacking cohesion. They have scored just 24 tries in nine games and only the Eels (22) and Titans (20) – the NRL’s bottom two teams – have scored less tries this season.
Speaking specifically about the performance against the Roosters, Bennett said the Knights did not take their opportunities and made too many mistakes.
‘‘We compounded it all by putting ourselves continually under pressure for the whole game, making error after error, [conceding] penalties, and we had them in great field position,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘You can’t compete with anybody at this level when we keep doing that stuff.’’
Edwards would have avoided suspension for his lifting tackle on Pearce, but he incurred a 20per cent loading because of a grade-one careless high tackle in a 20-12 loss to the Warriors last August.
Friend, who was not penalised, will escape suspension despite being charged with a grade-one careless high tackle that knocked McKinnon out.
‘‘I thought it was a penalty at least, but that’s footy ... I’m not one to stay down. I’ve always been taught like that,’’ McKinnon said.
‘‘I didn’t know what was going on when I was getting up. When I did play the ball, I thought there would have been a penalty or something, but that’s footy.
‘‘He got me sweet on the jaw. I was all right but I didn’t sleep much [on Sunday night]. Like I said, that’s footy and I’ve got to move on to next week.’’
Cowboys bench forward James Segeyaro faces a one-game ban after being charged with a grade-two careless high tackle on Dragons skipper Ben Hornby last Friday.
The Knights have denied they have released Mark Wade from his one-year second-tier contract to return to Newcastle rugby union club Merewether Carlton.
Wade, who played two NSW Cup games earlier this season before suffering an ankle injury, trained with the Greens last Thursday night but the Knights say he is still contracted to them.