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Knights v Panthers preview

Jack Brady, Staff Writer NRL.com Sun, May 11, 2014 - 12:15 PM

Knights centre Dane Gagai will play his 50th NRL game for Newcastle when the Panthers visit Hunter Stadium on Sunday. Copyright: Col Whelan

Knights v Penrith
Hunter Stadium
Sunday 2pm

A Mothers' Day showdown beckons in Newcastle this Sunday afternoon as the Knights and Panthers battle for bragging rights and the love of their mums. These two teams kicked off the 2014 campaign against one another 10 weeks ago and now a third of the way into the NRL premiership this game will serve as a fair reflection of where these two teams stand.

With three-quarters of the Knights' spine in Kurt Gidley, Darius Boyd and Tyrone Roberts (who were already missing Jarrod Mullen at this point) – going off in their Round 1 game with injuries, the Panthers proved too strong for a fleeting Newcastle side with a 30-8 victory. While it was their first game of the season, not much has changed for either side as the season has progressed.


After the Panthers kicked off 2014 with a 22-point victory over this week's opponents in a solid yet not outstanding victory, the Panthers have remained firm with four wins and four losses as Round 9 looms.

The Knights, however, have remained down on form, having won just two games so far this season. While injuries have played their part and the obvious emotion involved with the Alex McKinnon situation has been difficult, the Knights have little to show so far this season following their miraculous run to fourth place last year, having earned only a 2-6 record in 2014.

With the Panthers yet to win consecutive games this season, following every victory with a loss, history dictates that two points are on the horizon this Sunday afternoon after their last-start defeat to Cronulla.

In team changes, Akuila Uate returns on the wing for Jake Mamo, while David Fa'alogo has been promoted to the starting line-up following the standing-down of Zane Tetevano. Matt Hilder will make his return to first-grade for the first time since last year's preliminary final loss to the Sydney Roosters. Korbin Sims was rubbed out for a game after failing in his bid to downgrade a high tackle charge at the judiciary on Wednesday night. Centre Dane Gagai will play his 50th game for Newcastle.

For the Panthers, utility Tyrone Peachey will start in place of injured forward Elijah Taylor, with Matt Robinson coming on to the bench, while prop Tim Grant has been replaced by the returning Sam McKendry.

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Watch out Knights: While he wasn't there to help the Panthers put the Knights to the sword in Round 1, Jamal Idris has been in sensational form and has clearly left an impression on his teammates. With Idris, Dean Whare, Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan and David Simmons currently making up the back five for the Panthers, they have combined to average a mammoth 682 metres per game.

Yet there are another five men the Knights will have to look out for – their own. With Beau Scott, Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, Robbie Rochow and James McManus returning to the Knights after a week in Country Origin camp, a greater degree of confidence should come back with these five men. They will hope their struggling Newcastle teammates can thrive off of it and build towards getting their season back on track.

Watch out Penrith: The Panthers are entering dangerous territory on Sunday afternoon. With the Knights having won just two games this season, Newcastle will be eager to go all out for a much-needed victory. The Panthers have showed several alarming signs in the past few weeks, punctuated when they couldn't defeat the lowly Sharks a fortnight ago.

These worrying signs can be seen with their recent handling of the pill. In their last three matches, the Panthers have committed 11 errors (twice) and 15 against the Rabbitohs in Round 6. While their usual errors committed sits around the competition average, the Panthers will need to tighten the screws if they are to become a force in the coming months.

Another key stat to the Panthers detriment is the defensive efforts of four key players in Peter Wallace, Jamie Soward, Brent Kite and Adam Docker. In the last month these four have been responsible for almost half of their side's missed tackles, while they have been responsible for 35 per cent of the Panthers missed tackles overall. Of most concern, Docker and Soward have missed 26 tackles each this year.

Plays to Watch: While Mullen has influenced the Knights to no end since his return, it has also aided a return to form for halfback Tyrone Roberts. Roberts had a hand in both of the Knights tries in the controversial last start loss to the Bulldogs. His willingness to keep the ball alive on a backline movement helped his centre Joey Leilua put away McManus in Round 8, while his brilliant flick to the waiting arms of Rochow on the inside is another one to watch out for this weekend.

Peter Wallace's pinpoint right boot will be one to watch as well. Kicking out to the left towards Mansour, the winger was able to cross the line twice in their last start against the Sharks; although one of them was disallowed for an infringement from the dummy-half. Expect more of the same from the dangerous pair.

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Where It Will Be Won: We're better off saying where it won't be won, in light of these sides’ recent poor form. If they continue their recent defensive woes, then this game may turn into a difficult for either set of fans to enjoy.

While the Panthers’ defensive woes were highlighted earlier, the Knights have not fared much better – their 15th position on the ladder is a testament to this. Wayne Bennett's men have missed a tick under 30 tackles per match in 2014 and while there haven't been main offenders in the same manner as Penrith, the Knights will also need a better team effort in defence to secure victory.

The History: Played 39; Knights 22, Penrith 14, Drew 3. Despite their last start against the Panthers in Round 1 resulting in a 30-8 loss, the Knights have held the wood over the Penrith lads in recent times. Newcastle have won seven of their last 10 against the Panthers. In a further fun fact to come out of their recent history, the Knights have posted 30 or more points (including matches they have lost) seven times in their last eleven meetings.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Steve Folkes.

Televised: Fox Sports 1– Live 2pm.

The Way We See It: The Panthers have shown this year that they are capable of slip-ups. Their losses to the Eels and the Sharks highlight this. Coming up against a well-desperate Newcastle at Hunter Stadium may prove just too much for the mountain men, especially with the likes of Mullen and Scott trying to push their way into a Blues jersey. Don't be surprised to see this game go against the mould and Penrith fall for their second straight loss. Knights by 8.