League: Rearmed Knights ready for premier battle

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has settled on Kurt Gidley as his main man. Photo / NZPA
Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has settled on Kurt Gidley as his main man. Photo / NZPA

If any coach has a blueprint for winning NRL premierships, it's Newcastle's Wayne Bennett - the man with seven wins from two clubs in 20 years.

But after witnessing the struggles of 2012, Knights fans are well aware the task of delivering their club's third premiership - and first since 2001 - is much tougher than Bennett faced before delighting Dragons fans with their first title in more than 30 years in 2010.

Still, there's genuine reason to believe the Knights can be a whole lot better in 2013, and Bennett shares that belief.

In his second season at the helm, one of the big keys to Bennett's 2013 plan will be getting utility star Kurt Gidley producing his best football while playing regularly at halfback.

Gidley has been Newcastle and NSW's Mr Fixit in recent seasons, jumping from one role to another.

But Bennett believes he's the man to run the show - and he'll have better support to do so after the coach addressed some of his team's shortcomings last season.

"It's a challenge. He [Gidley] hasn't played much there but he's up for it," said Bennett, who has a reputation for transforming players in new positions. "He can handle the responsibility. I'm confident about that."

The Knights simply didn't measure up in the toughness department in the back half of last season and Bennett is rectifying that.

His recruitment of noted hard men Jeremy Smith from Cronulla, and Beau Scott from the Dragons, along with Kiwi bruiser David Fa'alogo from English Super League club Huddersfield, will go a long way to shedding that unwanted tag in 2013.

With Smith, Scott, Willie Mason, Fa'alogo and punishing hitter Neville Costigan on his roster, Bennett knows opposition teams will not look forward to playing against his pack.

Smith has a wealth of finals experience while Fa'alogo could be used to intimidate in the front-row.

Bennett doesn't pull any punches about the areas where Newcastle must improve to be a threat in 2013.

"Across the spectrum of the game, we have to do everything better," he said. "We must think better, control the ball better, defend better, be a bit tougher, attack a bit smarter."

After finishing 12th last season, is it realistic to think they could challenge for the premiership this year?

"It's not unrealistic," he said.

"There's a gap between us and what the top teams consistently do well and we don't.

"But we've got the quality players at the club now who can do that, who've got pretty good pedigrees to build on the work we did last year.

"It's whether we can do it in one season. But we're on the right path now. We're getting the idea."

Having added some genuine sting and intimidation to his 2013 squad and settling on Gidley as his main man, Bennett has enough strike in his backline to win plenty of games.

Wingers Akuila Uate, 59 tries in three seasons, and James McManus are world-class along with fullback Darius Boyd, giving the Knights one of the most potent back threes in the competition.

Newcastle could be the big improvers in 2013 - even a premiership bolter with the help of Bennett's Midas touch.

- AAP

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