If opposition teams felt Newcastle were a soft touch last season, they could be in for a rude shock next year.
That was the message yesterday from Knights coach Wayne Bennett, who said he has signed Beau Scott (St George Illawarra), Jeremy Smith (Cronulla) and David Fa'alogo (Huddersfield) specifically to give his team the intimidatory edge he believes was lacking.
In certain games last season, in particular the round-18 loss to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium, Bennett was concerned that his players were physically bullied by bigger, more aggressive opponents. Next year he is confident the boot will be on the other foot.
''That's part of the overall plan,'' Bennett said. ''I felt at times last year we'd pull up on the bus somewhere and you knew the opposition hadn't had a sleepless night worrying about you.
''They were thinking: 'The Knights aren't going to throw a lot at us today and it's not going to be a tough game'. I hope next year when we pull up on the bus they're saying: 'Here come the Knights and we've got ourselves a tough game on our hands today'.
''That's what those guys bring. They have a reputation for being guys that lead from the front and having attributes that you need in this game. The three of them are highly credentialled in that area. That's not something anyone questions about them.''
The master coach, who won six premierships at Brisbane and another at St George Illawarra, said Newcastle, who finished a lacklustre 12th in their first season under his control, needed to develop a winning mentality before they could become title contenders.
He said Scott, Smith and Fa'alogo would complement Newcastle's Kurt Gidley, Danny Buderus and Willie Mason.
''This team's probably a bit different to every team I've ever been at,'' he said. ''They're not a team that oozes confidence and self-belief; not last year, anyway. That's got to be built into the place, and we're in that process now.''
Bennett had no concern about the age of some of his recruits.
Newcastle will have eight players over the age of 30 on their roster next season. ''I don't look at their ages, I just look at how they play,'' Bennett said.
Bennett used a nucleus of veterans as a blueprint for success at Brisbane during their foundation seasons but acknowledged there had to be a blend of youth and experience. ''The issue is for us is to recognise we have got an ageing team and we've got some good kids coming through,'' he said.
''We're buying time. That's how we built the Broncos. We had the great Wally Lewis and the Gene Miles and the Greg Dowlings [who] were all at the end of their careers. But they brought the Allan Langers through, and the Steve Renoufs and the Kevin Walters and a whole lot of other people ... ''There's a lot of good kids here, and the older players will help bring them through ... one part of us is out there competing, trying to do our best every weekend; the second part is a building process.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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