Peter Knights (born 30 March 1952) is a former Australian rules footballer and coach. He is widely regarded as one of the finest centre half-backs to have played the game, despite suffering numerous injuries. He was recognized for his contribution to the game when he was among the inaugural inductees into the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and later in the Hawthorn Team of the Century.
Recruited from Longwarry in the Gippsland region of Victoria, Knights made his debut with Hawthorn in a loss against St Kilda at Moorabbin in Round 9, 1969. He became easily identifiable on the field with his blond hair and his ability to frequently take spectacular high marks. He was also a great exponent of the drop kick and the torpedo punt kick.
After playing only five games in his debut season, Knights established himself in the first team in 1970. The following year he did so well in that position that he was chosen for Victoria, winning the Simpson Medal for the best on ground in the WA v Victoria match played in Perth. However, he missed out on Hawthorn's 1971 Premiership success due to a knee injury.
Knights was moved briefly to full-forward in 1972 after a serious knee injury to Peter Hudson forced Hawthorn to experiment in the position before finally settling on Michael Moncrieff. He actually finished as Hawthorn's leading goal-kicking with 46 goals, but was moved back to defence before the season was over. After injury problems restricted his 1973 season, for the next three years Knights was rated the best centre half-back in the game. In 1975, Knights finally had the chance to participate in the first of four Grand Finals. North Melbourne were too good on the day, winning their first-ever Premiership. Knights was Hawthorn's best player on the day, and capped off a fine personal year by winning the club Best and Fairest award. Knights' stellar form continued into 1976, and had he not suffered a broken collarbone during the season, he would probably have won the 1976 Brownlow Medal. He shrugged off that disappointment to be one of Hawthorn's best players in the 1976 VFL Grand Final triumph, later joining some of his teammates at Peter Crimmins' bedside.
From 1977 onwards Knights was frequently rested up forward to reduce the risk of injuries, but still did enough great work at centre half-back to finish one vote behind Malcolm Blight in the 1978 Brownlow Medal count. He would shrug off the disappointment of finishing runner-up in the Brownlow by starring in the 1978 VFL Grand Final. After being knocked out while playing in defence, Knights was moved forward in the last quarter, where he took a series of fine marks and kicked two goals to help secure Hawthorn's fourth Premiership. During his stellar 1978 season Knights also claimed his second Simpson Medal with a dominant display for Victoria against WA in Perth.
The litany of injuries that Knights had suffered through his career began to catch up with him, and from 1979 to 1981, he played in only 26 out of a possible 66 games. Amid rumours of retirement, Knights rebounded to play impressive football in his final years. In 1983, he booted six goals in the Qualifying Final to guide Hawthorn to a thrilling four-point win against Fitzroy, and was again among the best players on the field as the Hawks crushed Essendon in the Grand Final. Another knee injury restricted him to just four games in 1984, but in his final season he showed traces of brilliant form – kicking nine goals against Carlton in Round 10. The Preliminary Final against Footscray would turn out to be Knights' final VFL game. He had just four disposals, and was dropped for the Grand Final, a surprising decision for some people, given his reputation as a performer on the VFL's biggest stage. Yet again, Knights would bounce back from the disappointment to finish his career in a semblance of style, kicking a bag of goals to help Hawthorn defeat Carlton in the reserves Grand Final.
Although Knights enjoyed spectacular success on the field, it was a different story as a coach. However, it should also be remembered that he was in charge of teams that were either relatively new and inexperienced (Brisbane), or undergoing restructuring (Hawthorn).
In 1986, the VFL decided to expand and include one team each from Western Australia and Queensland. The Brisbane Bears, based on the Gold Coast in South East Queensland, recruited Knights as their inaugural coach, despite his lack of coaching experience. The club won their first game, and although expectations of the new side were low, it was considered a significant achievement that the team was able to avoid finishing last in their first season.
Despite this, the Bears' results in 1988 and 1989 failed to improve, with the club suffering regular thrashings. Knights was dismissed as coach with seven games remaining in the 1989 season and replaced with team psychologist, Paul Feltham. Knights was considered to have been unlucky, as ineffective club management and poor relationships amongst his underperforming players seen as major contributing factors in the club's performance.
After a brief coaching stint at Tasmanian club Devonport from 1990 to 1993, Knights returned to Hawthorn as senior coach for the 1994 AFL season. He managed to lead the team into the finals series, but were knocked out by North Melbourne in the first final. The following year the team finished second last, however, and Knights was again sacked.
South Australia 26.16 (172) defeated Victoria 17.14 (116), at Football Park, 16 May 1983, crowd: 44,521 Western Australia 16.22 (118) d Victoria 16.19 (115), at Subiaco Oval, 12 July 1983, crowd: 44,213