2017 –

Knights legend Sam Stewart eyes comeback, at 54

AS the Newcastle Knights unveiled Trent Hodkinson as captain for their 30th-anniversary season, the club’s inaugural skipper, Sam Stewart, is planning a remarkable comeback.

Hodkinson’s appointment was confirmed at the Knights’ season launch, held at Newcastle Marina on Friday night. 

Knights coach Nathan Brown has this year opted for a lone skipper, and 28-year-old Hodkinson was endorsed by the leadership group.

“It’s a great privilege, a great honour, to be a captain of an NRL side,’’ Hodkinson said.

“I know the history, and everything that goes with being a Newcastle Knights player, let alone a captain.

“So I’m very excited about leading the boys around again and I can’t wait to get out there.’’

Hodkinson said the responsibility “won’t change my role too much” and he had a “strong leadership group in place now” to provide support.

“Hopefully we can just set the standards for the guys coming through and they’ll be better off for last year, the experience they had, moving forward this year,’’ he said.

LEGEND: Sam Stewart

 LEGEND: Sam Stewart

He will follow in the footsteps of iconic Knights leaders such as Andrew Johns, Paul Harragon, Tony Butterfield, Danny Buderus, Mark Sargent, Kurt Gidley, Michael Hagan and the club’s original captain, Slammin’ Sam Stewart.

Stewart, now 54 and retired for two decades, has agreed to return to the field this year to help with the resurrection of foundation Newcastle Rugby League club North Newcastle.

The Bluebags have effectively been defunct since merging with Nelson Bay in 1989, but are poised to rise from the grave in 2017, playing in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League second-division competition.

Stewart, through his friendship with North vice-chairman and former Knights team manager Gary Callaghan, has committed to play on an occasional basis.

The former Kiwi Test star lives on the Gold Coast but intends to fly back to Newcastle for games. He is expected to attend his first training session next week.

“We didn’t even have to ask him,’’ North chairman Steve Doran said.

“He just told Gary he’s read about our plans, and the history of our club, and he volunteered to play.

“He works out every day and is still fit as a mallee bull, so we’re delighted to have him.

“He wants to be part of it and hopefully teach the young blokes a trick or two. He’s coming down next week to train with the boys.’’

Doran said Stewart would play “probably not every weekend, but he will be available for important matches’’.

The fearless back-rower played in 81 top-grade games for the Knights between 1988 and 1993 and was the first player to be awarded life membership of the club.

Doran said North had secured more than enough players to field a team, have appointed a coach in former Gunnedah player Dennis Hoffman, and have had a jersey designed to match the strip they wore in winning 15 first-grade premierships.

They also intend to fund a team to compete this season in the Sydney Metro women’s competition.

North have been talking to Newcastle City Council about potential home grounds.


Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League: North Newcastle and South Newcastle rivals once again

One of the region’s oldest sporting rivalries will be reignited when the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League season kicks off later this month.

Traditional outfits North Newcastle and South Newcastle will go head-to-head in the A-grade competition after gradings for 2017 were officially unveiled on Tuesday.

It will pit the foundation teams, who were part of the original Newcastle Rugby League competition in 1910, against each other for the first time in almost three decades.

OLD RIVALS: North Newcastle v South Newcastle in first grade. Picture: Legends Of League - A History Of The Newcastle Rugby League 1908-1999.

 OLD RIVALS: North Newcastle v South Newcastle in first grade. Picture: Legends Of League – A History Of The Newcastle Rugby League 1908-1999.

Norths, also known as the Bluebags, have basically been defunct since merging with Nelson Bay in 1989 but have recently reformed with inaugural Knights skipper and Kiwi international Sam Stewart on the books

Souths, who normally play exclusively in the top flight district competition, will be one of three clubs featuring in second division after open grade, or thirds, was replaced by ladies league tag on match day for this season.   

Souths will also be joined by fellow district clubs Macquarie and Maitland, who have both entered B-grade.  

There are 42 sides from A to D grade and another 14 in ladies league tag.

Some of the new or revived entities include Aberglasslyn, Kearsley, Maitland United and Morpeth. 

Round one is scheduled to start on March 31. The draw has yet to be finalised.

Last month A-grade outfit Shortland announced the signing of two-time NRL top-try scorer Nathan Merritt.

A-GRADE: Cardiff, Fingal Bay, Maitland United, Mallabula, North Newcastle, Shortland, South Newcastle, Swansea, Tea Gardens, Umina.

B-GRADE: Belmont South, Carrington, Dora Creek, Dudley, Macquarie, Maitland, Morpeth, University, West Wallsend, Windale.

C-GRADE: Abermain, Clarence Town, Dungog, Gloucester, Hinton, Karuah, Kearsley, Paterson River, Stockton, Stroud, Wallsend, Waratah Mayfield.

D-GRADE: Cardiff reserves; East Maitland, Glendale, Hexham, Kotara, Maitland United reserves, Raymond Terrace, Singleton, Swansea reserves, Woodberry.

LADIES LEAGUE TAG: Aberglasslyn, Cardiff, Carrington, Dora Creek, Maitland United, Mallabula, Morriset, Raymond Terrace, Shortland, Swansea, Tea Gardens, Umina, Waratah Mayfield, West Wallsend.



Northern Suburbs Bluebags set to tackle traditional rivals South Newcastle in first game for 28 years 

THE last time Northern Suburbs Bluebags played a competitive match, Bob Hawke was Australia’s Prime Minister, the internet was described by one newspaper as “an obscure but rapidly growing computer network”, and Madonna was on top of the charts with her hit single, Like a Prayer.

NEW ERA: Bluebags players, from left, Chad Pattison, Eddie Asiata, Conor Lynch, Shaun Dunne, Thomas Woolaston, Dennis Hoffman, Jace Wallington, Blake Parrey and Tom Woodhouse. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

 NEW ERA: Bluebags players, from left, Chad Pattison, Eddie Asiata, Conor Lynch, Shaun Dunne, Thomas Woolaston, Dennis Hoffman, Jace Wallington, Blake Parrey and Tom Woodhouse. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Twenty-eight years down the track, the foundation Newcastle Rugby League club – who won 15 first-grade premierships before merging with Nelson Bay in 1989 – will make an emotional return at Passmore Oval on Saturday, in the opening round of the Newcastle and Hunter A-grade competition.

Adding to the sense of nostalgia, their first opponents will be South Newcastle, one of the three other original clubs from the 1910 season, along with Western Suburbs and Central Newcastle.

And in another blast from the past, inaugural Knights skipper Sam Stewart has committed to playing for North, at the age of 54, most likely in a cameo appearance off the bench – weather permitting.

The club’s resurrection mission kicked off late last year, at an annual gathering of former players. Over a few beers, the Old Boys resolved to form a junior club. 

But those plans were put on hold after they were surprisingly inundated with approaches from players interested in launching a senior team. Soon they had enough numbers to register a side and had secured a coach in  former Gunnedah player Dennis Hoffman.

Newcastle architect Steve Doran, who played in North’s last premiership in 1979, was installed as the club chairman.

Doran said Saturday would be a proud day, but hopefully just a step towards the ultimate goal – re-admission to the Newcastle RL top-flight ranks.

“We’re putting in place a five- to seven-year plan to work our way back there,’’ he said. “Time will tell, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.’’

Doran said he had been amazed by the level of interest in North’s comeback, as evidenced by almost 14,000 hits on the club’s Facebook site. He was confident the modern-day Bluebags would encapsulate the ethos that made the club so successful in its glory days.

“This is grassroots football in the true sense of the word,’’ he said. “Mate against mate. 

“Suburb against suburb. It’s about the community you represent. It’s about something money can’t buy – spirit.’’

As well as their men’s A-grade side, North will field a team in the inaugural NSW Rugby League women’s competition, to be be captained by Jillaroos skipper Bec Young.

Saturday’s historic clash with South will kick off at 3pm, unless the recent deluge of rain results in an unplayable ground.

“It’s been a long time between drinks,’’ Doran said.