Newcastle Knights: All-Time Greatest XIII
The Newcastle Knights are in their 30th season in the NRL/NSWRL, after joining the competition in 1988 alongside the Brisbane Broncos.
It only took the club 10 years to win its first premiership, during the Super League war in 1997 when the competition was split in two. The Knights upset favourites Manly after Darren Albert scored the match-winning try on the hooter, sparking wild celebrations throughout the Hunter Valley.
Another premiership followed four years later in 2001, when Newcastle were again the underdogs but they managed to upset Parramatta in the first ever night grand final.
Not surprisingly, players from those premiership-winning teams feature heavily in my all-time greatest XIII. But there are still some outstanding players I couldn’t squeeze in.
Kurt Gidley is a prime example. I couldn’t find a spot for him in my team, but if I had a bench he would be the first player I’d pick due to his versatility. Others who could count themselves unlucky include backs Michael Hagan, Mark Hughes and Darren Albert, and forwards Mark Sargent, Sam Stewart, Billy Peden and Marc Glanville.
The stats I’ve listed below for each player only reflect their matches for the Newcastle Knights, not for other clubs or representative teams.
Fullback: Robbie O’Davis
223 matches (1992-04), 78 tries.
Robbie O’Davis was only small in stature, but he was a jack-in-the-box who would bob up anywhere in attack and was solid at the back. His undoubted career highlight was scoring two crucial tries and winning the Clive Churchill Medal in the Knights’ 1997 grand final win over red-hot favourites Manly. A one club man, O’Davis tasted premiership success again in 2001. His superb form with the Knights earned him 12 State of Origin appearances for the Maroons and 8 Tests during his career.
Winger: Adam MacDougall
158 matches (1997-03, 2007-11), 87 tries.
Adam ‘Mad Dog’ MacDougall was an intense player who became a cult figure with Knights’ fans. He was an important member of their two premiership teams, playing in the centres in the 1997 grand final and on the wing in 2001.
MacDougall was rewarded with numerous State of Origin and Test jerseys as a winger in the early part of his career, and his ongoing rivalry with Wendell Sailor (one of the wingers in our all-time greatest Brisbane Broncos XIII) became legendary. After a stint at Souths, he fittingly returned to finish his career at the Knights.
Centre: Matt Gidley
221 matches (1996-06), 68 tries.
Matt Gidley was a creative centre, whose ability to set up his outside men was his trademark. His control of the flick pass, after he had drawn in two defenders to himself, was amazing. Injury unfortunately ruled him out of Newcastle’s 1997 grand final win, but he eventually achieved the premiership success he deserved in the 2001 decider against Parramatta. By that stage he was an established State of Origin and Test player, going on to play 11 times for the Blues and 17 times for his country.
Centre: Timana Tahu
126 matches (1999-2004, 2012-14), 93 tries.
After starting his career on the wing and often being on the end of great passes from Matt Gidley, Tahu moved to the centres where he continued to be a major attacking threat. He was the Knights’ leading try scorer in their 2001 premiership season, capping his year with a try in the grand final. His superb try-scoring strike rate still ranks among the best in the modern game and earned him a swag of rep jumpers during his time at the Knights. After stints at Penrith and Parramatta and a switch to rugby union, he returned to finish his career at Newcastle.
Winger: Akuila Uate
161 matches (2008-16), 110 tries.
Although he was let go by the Knights toward the end of 2016, Akuila Uate’s pace and intensity made him an electrifying winger for the club in his prime. An outstanding finisher, Uate was the NRL’s leading try scorer in 2010 and still holds the Knights’ all-time try scoring record . Aku was near unstoppable at his peak, claiming the Dally M Winger of the Year crown for three consecutive seasons (2010, 2011 and 2012).
Five-eighth: Matthew Johns
176 matches (1992-2000), 22 tries.
Even though he’s only the second best footballer in his family, Matthew Johns certainly deserves his place in this all-time greatest Newcastle team. Johns was a clever and skilful pivot, who formed a great scrumbase combination with his younger, Immortal brother. If his field goal attempt hadn’t hit the upright with two minutes to go in the 1997 grand final, Newcastle wouldn’t have needed the iconic Darren Albert try on the hooter to win the game.
Johns played in an era of extraordinary five-eighths, but still managed to represent his state and country. Unfortunately, salary cap restrictions forced him out of the club at the end of the 2000 season and he missed the Knights’ second premiership victory in 2001.
Halfback: Andrew Johns
249 matches (1993-2007), 80 tries, 917 goals.
Selection of the Eighth Immortal in this team is a no-brainer, but it’s still worth reflecting on Andrew Johns’ career achievements. His blindside play to put winger Darren Albert over in the final seconds of the 1997 grand final will forever be a part of Newcastle folklore, and he was the Knights’ captain and Clive Churchill Medallist in their 2001 decider.
‘Joey’ won the Dally M Player of the Year Medal three times during his career and the Golden Boot Award for the best player in the world twice. He was the highest point scorer in NRL history at the time of his retirement (a record since broken by goalkicking wizard Hazem El Masri), and he played 23 Origins for the Blues and 24 Tests.
Prop: Tony Butterfield
229 matches (1988-2000), 27 tries.
After starting his career at Penrith, Tony Butterfield joined the Knights for their debut season and stayed loyal for the next 13 years. At the time of his retirement, he was Newcastle’s most capped player. A tough and durable prop with a high work rate, Butterfield helped to establish the fabric of the Newcastle team in his era, especially the reputation of their forward pack. He and Paul Harragon were a formidable front row partnership in the Knights’ 1997 premiership-winning team.
Hooker: Danny Buderus
257 matches (1997-2008), 58 tries.
Club legend Danny Buderus is currently Newcastle’s most capped player. ‘Bedsy’ was always busy in attack and solid in defence, forming a great ruck combination with Andrew Johns. Buderus won a premiership with the Knights in 2001 and made his Test debut the same year, going on to become Australia’s long-term Test hooker. In 2004, he won the Dally M Player of the Year medal – the first hooker to win the award. An inspirational leader on and off the field, he captained the New South Wales State of Origin team a record 15 times.
Prop: Paul Harragon
169 matches (1988-99), 19 tries.
Paul ‘The Chief’ Harragon joined Newcastle for the club’s inaugural season and he became Knights’ forward leader for the majority of his 12 seasons. Fearless in both attack and defence, Harragon always led from the front and had the honour of captaining the Knights in their 1997 grand final win. His fierce rivalry with Souths and Manly prop Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll became legendary, with both players targeting each other relentlessly. Harragon also had a long and successful representative career at both Origin and Test level.
Second row: Steve Simpson
216 matches (1999-2010), 32 tries.
Steve Simpson was a rangy backrower with punishing defence and a powerful running game that was exploited by Andrew Johns. After making his debut for the Knights aged just 20, Simpson quickly established himself as an elite prospect and within three years he was playing in the second row for both New South Wales and Australia. Simpson formed a wonderful backrow combination with Ben Kennedy and Billy Peden in the Knights’ 2001 premiership-winning team. All three scored tries in the Grand Final, with Peden grabbing a double.
Second row: Adam Muir
99 matches (1990-97), 29 tries.
Adam Muir was another great ball-running backrower who helped establish the credibility of the Knights’ forward pack in their early years. By 1997, his last season with the club, he was an established State of Origin player and undoubtedly one of the Knights’ forward leaders. Muir was superb throughout the ’97 campaign – his experience and consistency was vital in paving the way for the Newcastle’s breakthrough premiership win.
Lock: Ben Kennedy
86 matches (2000-04), 29 tries.
After joining the club from Canberra, Ben Kennedy’s form with the Knights saw him become a mainstay of rep teams during his five seasons in the Hunter. Kennedy’s line-breaking ability and rugged defence were his trademarks. He was at his destructive best in attack during the 2001 season, scoring 17 tries, as Newcastle went on to claim their second premiership. Kennedy was outstanding in the ’01 Grand Final and arguably very unlucky to miss out on the Clive Churchill Medal.
So that’s my opinion for the Newcastle Knights’ Greatest 13. What are your thoughts? How do you think they compare with the other all-time greatest teams that we’ve covered in our series so far?
- South Sydney Rabbitohs
- St George-Illawarra Dragons
- Sydney Roosters
- Wests Tigers
- Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
- Parramatta Eels
- Manly-Warringah Sea-Eagles
- Penrith Panthers
- Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
- Canberra Raiders
- Brisbane Broncos