Written by Joshua Dean
The Newcastle Knights have had some highs and lows in the NRL era.
They were dominant in the late ’90s and early ’00s, culminating in the 2001 premiership victory. However, there were also some rough times throughout the era like in the mid-2010s, when they were wooden spooners three years in a row. Their golden era in the early 2000s was entertaining to watch for fans, with Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns at the peak of his powers.
Let’s have a look at their greatest NRL era side (minimum 25 games played 1998 onwards)
1. Robbie O’Davis (1998-2004) 98 appearances
Robbie O’Davis played seven seasons in the NRL era for Newcastle, providing an energetic impact from the back. He was essential to the Newcastle Knights 2001 Grand Final victory over the Eels. He was a regular for Queensland in the NRL era, which just shows his quality. His greatest asset was his elusiveness, he could get away from several defenders without getting touched. O’Davis is a legend of the club and deservedly secures the number one jersey for this Knights team.
2. Adam MacDougall (1998-03, 2007-11) 147 appearances
Adam “Mad Dog” MacDougall was extremely versatile for the Knights, being able to play at fullback, wing and centre. MacDougall may not have been the fastest player, but he made up for that via being one of the hardest ball-runners of the NRL era. His career had a few stoppages with off-field issues and injuries but MacDougall made the most with the skill he had and thoroughly deserves his spot in this team.
3. Matt Gidley (1998-2006) 190 appearances
Although known as a wonderkid at five-eighth growing up the junior ranks, Matt Gidley made the right centre spot for the club his own for almost a decade. His right foot step, famous flick pass and partnership with Timana Tahu was iconic in Newcastle. His attack was world class and he really paved the way for the centre position in the modern game. The 2001 premiership was a historic moment for his career, due to him missing out on the 1997 victory due to injury.
4. Mark Hughes (1998-05) 144 appearances
Mark Hughes was one of the most underrated players of the 2000’s. He consistently scored over 10 tries a season, but was never picked for the Kangaroos, mainly due to poor luck with injuries. Like many other Knights players from that era, Hughes could play multiple positions, however, he was at his best in the centres. He was an underrated component of the club’s success and barring injuries, could have played a lot more games and contributed even more for the club.
5. Akulia Uate (2008-2016) 161 appearances
The highest try scorer in club history, Akuila Uate was the most entertaining wingers in rugby league for several seasons. He was one of the fastest in the competition, as well as one of the strongest. Uate won Dally M Winger of the Year for three consecutive seasons (2010, 2011, 2012), as well as RLPA Player of the Year in 2011. He scored 20 tries or more in two seasons at the club, while playing for a mediocre Knights outfit. Akuila Uate was electrifying at the Knights and was another trailblazer of Pacific Island players in the NRL.
6. Matthew Johns (1998-2000) 71 appearances
Matthew Johns was not as talented as his younger brother, but he was a tough and intelligent rugby league player which led to them working so well together as a halves pairing. He did have his inconsistencies, but being behind the shadow of the 8th immortal was always going to be tough. However, Matty made a great career for himself and contributed a lot to the club in his short time there in the NRL era. There is no one better to pair with Joey in this team than his own brother, Matty.
7. Andrew Johns (1998-2007) 173 appearances
The greatest Newcastle Knights player of all time, as well as many people’s greatest rugby league player of all time, Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns accomplished everything in the sport. He won the Dally M Medal on three occasions (1998, 1999, 2002), as well as Rugby League Week Player of the Year an incredible five consecutive seasons (98-02). His kicking game was on point every single game and some of the passes he made were almost impossible to make. Johns was the world’s best player for a long period of time and being named the eighth immortal in 2012 was the last achievement he needed for his GOAT resume.
8. Tony Butterfield (1998-2000) 71 appearances
Even though he only played three seasons in the NRL era, while being in the twilight of his career, Tony Butterfield was too impactful to not be in this side. ‘Butts’ is known as one of the toughest players to ever play the game. Not many players could rival his toughness. Butterfield was a driving force for the club throughout his time there and was always a must for this side.
9. Danny Buderus (1998-08, 2012-13) 256 appearances
One of the best hookers in the NRL era, Danny Buderus was a constant in an ever-changing Knights outfit. He is the club’s most capped player and had his best years in the early 2000s. Buderus won the Dally M Medal in 2004, as well as Dally M Hooker of the Year on three occasions (2002,2004,2005). He played over 20 matches for both Australia and New South Wales and was also part of the clubs 2001 premiership, rounding off a legendary career at the Newcastle Knights.
10. Josh Perry (2000-2007) 142 appearances
Josh Perry was a solid, well-built prop forward with consistency and durability that Knights fans will remember him for. In an era when there were so many world-class props, Perry held his own and became an extremely reliable player for the club. He played one game for New South Wales while at the Knights. Perry will always be remembered for his 2001 season, but he provided so much more for the red and blue jersey.
11. Steve Simpson (1999-2010) 216 appearances
A loyal one-club man, Steve Simpson was an essential component in the 2001 premiership-winning season, playing every game. He is another Knights player that was as tough as nails and provided toughness on the edge. In the mid-2000’s he represented both country and state a handful of times each. Simpson seemed to never get tired and had one of the best motors in the competition. He was a constant on the edge for the club and was an obvious selection in the second row here.
12. Ben Kennedy (2000-2004) 86 appearances
Simpson’s back-row partner in crime in the early 2000s was Ben Kennedy. He was one of the hardest runners the game had. Kennedy scored a try in the 2001 Grand Final victory and he had a rare ability to create line breaks on the edge from nothing. His defence was also above average for the second row position. Kennedy was amongst the abundance of Knights players representing Australia and New South Wales at the time.
13. Bill Peden (1998-2004) 127 appearances
One of the most undervalued players in the early 2000’s, Bill Peden was an elite defender for the Knights at both the hooker and lock positions. The 2001 Grand Final was poetic, due to Peden scoring an unlikely two tries against the Eels to win the premiership. When almost the whole Knights side at that time received rep honours, Peden did not represent his state or country in his whole career. He was highly underappreciated because the Knights would not have been as successful without Bill Peden at the lock position.
14. Kurt Gidley (2001-2015) 251 appearances
Kurt Gidley played 15 seasons for the Novocastrians in the NRL era, doing whatever was best for the team at any given time. Whilst having played much of his at fullback for the club, he was incredibly versatile and also played at centre, five-eighth, halfback and hooker throughout his tenure at the Newcastle Knights, providing so many options off the bench. There have been games where he has torn oppositions apart single handedly, but he has always gone under the radar for some reason. Gidley is the ideal fit for this number 14 jersey, because of his longevity and versatility.
15. Matt Parsons (2000-2004) 106 appearances
As the tallest prop in the game standing at 200cm, Matt Parsons provided a lot for the Knights in the early 2000s. Parsons’ height made it extremely difficult for opposition players to tackle him and he was a real metre eater for the club. His durability and consistency are what fans will remember him most for, he played over 20 matches per season consistently, a great feat for someone his size.
16. Daniel Saifiti (2016-present) 117 appearances
Another towering front rower, Daniel Saifiti is the only current Knights player to be selected in this side. He entered first grade when the team was consistently at the bottom of the ladder, however, he stayed loyal and their fortunes have turned around. Saifiti has become an essential component of the side, being an obvious starter, as well as becoming co-captain this season. He has played for the dominant New South Wales side seven times, contributing heavily to their success as well.
17. Chris Houston (2008-09, 2011-2015) 160 appearances
A hard working forward, Chris Houston adds some defensive capability to this bench. He seemed to make tackle after tackle and never get tired, which is something this side requires. 2012 would be his best season, where he made the most tackles (992) in the NRL. Houston was never the most flashy player, but he did the things the other players wouldn’t do. He thoroughly deserves a place on the bench in this Newcastle Knights side.
Coach – Michael Hagan (2001-2006) 154 appearances
Michael Hagan is the only coach to win a premiership with the Newcastle Knights in the NRL era. He was the first former player to coach the side and allowed players to attack freely, which led to some mind-blowing moments. Even on the biggest stages, Hagan always let these talented players try new things. They did concede a lot points throughout his tenure, however, they played with no fear and tended to score more points than other sides.
Honourable Mentions – Timana Tahu, Darren Albert, Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga