|Brilliant high-flying centre half back who for a time was amongst the very best players in the VFL. Despite enduring a career riddled with an incredible array of injuries, Knights still managed to play 267 games, play in three premierships and win a multitude of individual honours.
He was one of the numerous excellent recruits from the Gippsland area, picked up from Longwarry and debuting in the 1969 season. Primarily a key defender, he was also able to be used in attack, where his prodigious leap and accurate kicking made him a dangerous pinch-hitting forward.
Knights didn't take very long to cement his spot in the senior side, but before long the injury curse that would haunt his career struck its first blow. A serious knee injury ruled him out of the remainder of the 1971 season, and his premiership dream was shattered.
Just as Knights recovered from his knee problems, another high-profile Hawk was struck down with a long-term knee injury. Peter Hudson's knee collapsed against Melbourne in Round 1 of 1972, and Knights was asked to fill the breach in attack. Despite being unable to completely fill Hudson's massive shoes, Knights did manage to top the club goalkicking in 1972 as he played mainly as a key forward.
Shifted back to defence, Knights began to assert himself amongst the game's elite. He became a key fixture in the powerful Hawthorn sides of the mid-70s, dominating the airspace across half back and starting numerous Hawk attacks with his dash and attacking flair.
Underrated as a defender, it was rare for Knights to lower his colours to an opposition centre half forward. It was his efforts to win the ball, rather than contain his opponents, that brought him under notice.
There have been few in the history of the game who could rival Knights’ aerial ability. He would routinely pull in two or three marks in a game that today would win a player a car for Mark of the Year. His brilliant marking combined with rare dash and penetrating delivery from the back half made him the game’s pre-eminent defender in the era of Dench, Doull, Southby, Moore, Nankervis, Bourke and Barker.
After the heartbreak of 1971, Knights' next flag opportunity came in 1975 against North Melbourne. Unfortunately Hawthorn put in a shocker of a performance, no doubt affected by the emotion surrounding Peter Crimmins' non-selection in the side, but Knights was unbowed, playing a superb game in a losing side, and being voted best afield by many media pundits, despite the Hawks going under by 55 points.
Knights' injury curse struck again in 1976. Playing in career-best form through the middle portion of the season, he broke a collarbone and missed seven matches in the run up to the finals series. Brownlow Medal night saw Knights lead the count for the entire evening, despite missing the last two months of the year, but Essendon ruckman Graham Moss polled in the final round to take the Brownlow that would certainly have been Knights but for the mishap.
The 1976 story had a happy ending, with Knights recovering fitness in time to play in the 1976 Grand Final, where a spirited Hawthorn side exacted revenge against North Melbourne for the previous season's debacle, and honoured the dying Crimmins with a stirring victory. Knights, a close friend of Crimmins, was again amongst the best in the big one, and then went to Crimmins' bedside with a group of teammates to share the premiership spoils with their comrade.
Knights' 1978 echoed his 1976 season, with the pain of an unlucky second in the Brownlow (this time to Malcolm Blight) eclipsed by premiership glory over North Melbourne. Knights was typically amongst the side's best, with two goals and some towering marks in attack.
Hawthorn's fall from finals contention in the following three seasons coincided with yet more injury problems for Knights, as back and hamstring problems dulled his effectiveness and reduced his game total. Fearless and unheeding of the consequences, Knights tried to keep playing the only way he knew, but often found his body unable to respond to his urgings.
Mutterings about retirement circulated in 1981-82, but Knights bounced back to some stellar form, helping to rejuvenate the Hawks under Allan Jeans. He put in yet another brilliant Grand Final performance in 1983, outpointing old rival Paul Van Der Haar and winning his third premiership.
Knights continued to play some good football over the final two years of his career, including a sensational six-goal outing against Carlton at Princes Park in 1984. His playing career ended on something of a sour note, left out of the 1985 Grand Final side despite his astonishing record in the big game. Unbowed, he booted a bag of goals in the Reserves Grand Final, leading the Hawks to victory in the curtain raiser in his final game in brown and gold.
Knights' ability to perform at the highest level was best illustrated by his Grand Final performances - he would almost certainly have won the 1976 Norm Smith Medal, had such an award existed at the time, while he was amongst Hawthorn's best in three of his other four appearances on the last Saturday in September. Knights also excelled in State-Of-Origin, winning two Simpson Medals in his nine appearances for Victoria.
Knights was not long retired when he was thrust back into the football limelight, appointed coach of the fledgling Brisbane Bears in 1987. Assigned a rag-tag batch of rejects and second-raters, Knights did well to eke out six and seven wins in the Bears' first two seasons, but fell victim to the unrealistic expectations of the club, sacked in 1989.
He was something of a surprise choice as the replacement for Alan Joyce as Hawthorn coach in 1994, but managed to nudge the fading embers of the great Hawthorn sides of the preceding decade into sixth spot and a desperately unlucky finals loss to North Melbourne. 1995 saw the Hawks plunge to the unheard of depths of fifteenth place, and Knights' contract was not renewed.
Knights was Club Champion in 1975 and was awarded Life Membership in 1976. He was inducted into the AFL Hall Of Fame in the original intake of 1996, and awarded Life Membership of the AFL in 1999. He was inducted into the Hawthorn Hall Of Fame in 2003 and was selected on the half back flank in the Hawthorn Team Of The Century.
Immensely popular and respected throughout football circles, Peter Knights ranks with the all-time greats not only of Hawthorn, but of Australian Football.
|Coach - 1994-95|
|Selected as Half Back Flank in the Hawthorn Team of the Century|
|Inducted into the AFL Hall Of Fame - 1996|
|Life Member - 1976|
|AFL Life Member - 1999|
|Club Champion - 1975|
|Leading Goalkicker - 1972 (46)|
|Top 10 Brownlow - 1976 (2nd, 45 votes), 1978 (2nd, 21 votes)|
|Australian Football Media Association Most Valuable Player - 1976|
|Simpson Medal - 1971, 1978|
|Premierships - 1976, 1978, 1983|
|Inducted into the Hawthorn Hall of Fame - 2003|