Knights v Roosters
The Knights and Roosters have pretty similar teams in terms of style and strategy. Representative back three? Check. A halves pairing that can perform as well as any other in the competition on their day? Check. A big, bullocking forward pack? Check...
So what's the difference? Why are the Knights sitting two rungs above last on the ladder while the Roosters are sitting pretty at 5th?
It's because the Roosters, at this point in time, are simply better in everything they do. They are playing with conviction and their execution is well ahead of Newcastle (bar the Cronulla game three weeks ago). If their performance against the Panthers last weekend was any indication then they will be one of the last teams standing come September.
As for the Knights, well... they'd currently struggle to beat an egg. With Wayne Bennett leaving and a couple of players likely to follow the coach out the door, Newcastle will be playing for pride for the remainder of the season with their finals hopes in tatters. Their latest drama came to light on Wednesday with star fullback Darius Boyd admitted to a mental health clinic for treatment for depression. Certainly a positive attitude will be necessary in their remaining seven fixtures and it starts this Friday night.
If they are struggling for motivation then perhaps the 150th NRL appearances for Knights duo Kade Snowden and James McManus will do the trick.
Speaking of McManus, he will return for Jake Mamo while Kurt Gidley has been ruled out with a groin injury which sees Tyrone Roberts move from the bench to halfback and Travis Waddell come into the team. The Knights have announced 18-year-old debutant Sione Mata'utia will replace Boyd at fullback.
For the Roosters, Nene Macdonald will start on the wing. Shaun Kenny-Dowall moves back to the centres and Aidan Guerra moves back to lock. Frank-Paul Nuuausala returns to the bench.
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Watch Out Knights: The Roosters’ three-pronged back-row has been paying dividends for a long time but now with all three men back in the squad, barring injury, for the remainder of the year it is a scary prospect for the Chooks as they look now to win back-to-back premierships. With Sonny Bill Williams’ ball-playing and attacking finesse (seven line break assists and 129.6 metres), Boyd Cordner's ability to score a try and break the line (eight tries and eight line breaks) and Aidan Guerra's steel in defence (29.9 tackles per game) the Roosters have the basics completely covered in what is proving to be one of the best back row combinations in the competition.
The short turnaround and the draining expectation from their emotional RiseForAlex Round fixture will have Knights fans wary. Considering they didn't win on Sunday, the Knights may struggle to be up for the game or at the very least fail to get their head around where it went wrong last weekend.
While some may say that the best way to get over a heartbreaking loss is to get out there and play football as soon as possible, the Knights will have to be cautious of the effects of last week.
Watch Out Roosters: There's no need to beat around the bush with this one. Akuila Uate had a shocker last weekend. The former representative winger struggled under the high ball and was poor in defence. Uate dropped the ball on four separate occasions and out of the five Titans that ran at him he was only able to tackle three of them. The good news for Uate and Newcastle? The pressure is off. They can't make the finals and they are now playing for pride. Uate is also approaching a century of tries scored in the NRL so expect this to motivate the Fijian flyer to bounce back in a big way.
The danger that comes from playing the Knights now is complacency. Sure they have only won five games this year but on their day they have put on a rare competent performance. The Roosters can't rest on their laurels on Friday and expect the game to fall into their hands. Bad things will inevitably occur if they do.
Plays To Watch: Nothing really worked for Newcastle on the weekend and the points only came together once Willie Mason and Jeremy Smith looked to bring out their inner playmakers. As if they had planned it at training, Mason threw the ball to Smith, who backed into the Titans defence and offloaded to Mason who wrapped around the play. With defence looming Mason threw a one handed pass to Darius Boyd, allowing the fullback the space to send Joey Leilua 20 metres downfield to score. If the Knights find themselves struggling on Friday expect some forward intervention in attack again.
Simplicity reigned during the Roosters' dismantling of the Panthers on Saturday afternoon and it proved fruitful on two occasions with basic one-man cut-out balls leading to tries. Whether from dummy-half or from first receiver the Roosters were able to put over Remi Casty and Boyd Cordner with the simple play.
Where It Will Be Won: Keeping it simple. Both teams will have basic game plans heading into this fixture off the back of relatively short turnarounds. If the forwards are rolling downfield it will allow enough space for the halves and the rest of the backline to do damage out wide. The right hand edge is the favoured side for both to launch an attacking raid on so expect busy nights from Uate, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dane Gagai and Anthony Minichiello (whenever he and Tuivasa-Sheck swap around) as they look to get the wood over one another towards their team's winning efforts.
The History: Played 46; Knights 18, Roosters 26, drawn 2. Not even history is on Newcastle's side this weekend having lost four of their past five games against the Roosters, including a 29-12 loss just six weeks ago. The Knights last beat the Roosters in 2011 when Ryan Stig and Tyrone Roberts orchestrated a win over a full strength Roosters outfit. Miracles of yesteryear will be needed on Friday night.
What Are The Odds:
Punters at Sportsbet.com.au are rallying behind the Roosters ($1.42), while the Knights ($2.85) are sure to drift closer to kick-off. There’s also significantly more interest in the Roosters in line betting even though they’re conceding a 7.5 points start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Chris Sutton; Video Referees – Luke Patten & Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7:30pm (NSW) Delayed 9:30 (Qld).
The Way We See It: Off the back of a loss to the Titans on such an emotionally draining day and with a five day turnaround to boot, the Knights will struggle in this one. With the Roosters seemingly turning a corner last weekend against the Panthers they should prevail at Hunter Stadium to make it five from six against the Knights in recent times. Roosters by eight points.