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Knights v Sharks preview

Knights v Sharks preview
Both Jeremy Smith's current club Newcastle and former club, Cronulla, are searching for their first wins of the season. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos. Credit: Robb Cox/NRL Photos. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos.

Knights v Sharks
Hunter Stadium
Sunday 3:00pm (AEDT)

"Two teams – one dream. A war between two decimated rugby league sides searching for their first win of the season. In cinemas this Sunday."

You can't make this stuff up – an afternoon showdown between only the two sides yet to win a game in 2014. This match doesn't have the big-game feel that Hollywood would rush to create a blockbuster about. In fact, any game between the 15th- and 16th-placed sides isn't one to usually stir interest but this one just might surprise fans. 

Hear us out: let the record show that both of these sides have been ravaged by injury to their more influential players, with the likes of Lewis, Mullen, Gallen, Boyd and Fifita missing the majority of the opening stages of this season. Both of these sides made the semi-finals in 2013 and will be looking to reach the corresponding stage once again in 2014 while their match at the Auckland Nines was arguably the best game of the weekend. Not forgetting either that the prospect of a first win of the season for either the Knights or Cronulla is fair incentive for both sides to go hammer and tongs in carving out one great game of rugby league. 

In team changes, Andrew Fifita returns to the side while Tupou Sopoaga drops back to 18th man while one-time Knight Isaac De Gois will play his 100th game for the Sharks. For the home side, Korbin Sims replaces Alex McKinnon, who has received thousands of messages of support from fans following his devastating neck injury last Monday night.

Fifita has point to prove

Watch Out Knights: It would be very surprising if the word DISCIPLINE wasn't penned on every vacant whiteboard at the Knights Mayfield headquarters leading into this game. 

Unbelievably the Knights conceded three penalties in three minutes against Melbourne last weekend. Bar the Storm's first try, every one of Melbourne's four proceeding tries were off the back of penalties at crucial times – in cases multiple penalties and sheer piggybacking their opponents up the field was the Knights' downfall. By the end of the game the penalty count was 15-7; it's surely something the club needs to work on if they're going to get a result any time soon.

Speaking of words on whiteboards – if there was one word that was going to beat discipline to the punch then it would be FIFITA. Returning from a two-game suspension, Fifita will only strengthen the Sharks. The NSW and Australian international will be looking to nail down the Cronulla faithful's trust for the remainder of the season.

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Watch Out Sharks: Newcastle aren't necessarily playing like they've failed to win a game in 2014. Their completion rate in the past two weeks has been floating around the 80 per cent mark, which highlights the Sharks will need to be on song defensively if the Knights so happen to get on a roll. 

The Sharks should be aware of unassuming Michael Dobson as well. The former Canberra halfback has played admirably so far for the Knights this year in the absence of Jarrod Mullen. While we're not saying the Knights are better off with Dobson in the side, his passing game has managed to get the Knights on the front foot several times already this season. His face-balls and passes, especially to back-rower Beau Scott, have had a domino effect in getting Newcastle over the try line. Be on the lookout for more of that this Sunday. 

Plays To Watch: Andrew Fifita – returning warhorse – in his lone game of the season Fifita managed five offloads, 43 tackles, five tackle breaks and 141.3 metres; Kade Snowden played his best game of the season last week, running 11 times for 107 metres; Welcome back Todd Carney – grabbed the ball 75 times and ran 107 metres against the Red V in a clearly better performance for the Sharks; Beau Scott has made three line breaks (equal 10th in the NRL) from the hands of Michael Dobson this season.

Where It Will Be Won: The Sharks and Knights need to stop whatever it is they're trying to do and bring it to basics. Stick your tackles, hold the pill, stay civil in discipline – it's all that needs to happen from either of these sides to secure their first victory of the year.

The History: Played 43; Knights 26, Sharks 16, draw 1. Newcastle hold a distinct advantage over the Sharks in recent meetings. Since 2007, the Sharks have only won three times in the last 11 clashes. The last time they played, in Round 18 last year, the Knights snatched a last-gasp victory with an 18-14 win at Cronulla.

What Are The Odds: Money at Sportsbet.com.au is virtually even in this one despite the fact that the line is set at 6.0 points.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Dan Eastwood; Video Referees – Henry Perenara & Luke Patten.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEDT).

The Way We See It: This one will go down to the wire. With Fifita back and Carney playing his second game of the year, the Sharks will be a lot better off. However, with the Knights playing quite well against Melbourne down at AAMI Park the ball is in the home side's court.  If they sharpen up their discipline, the Knights should prove just good enough to beat a Gallen-less Sharks side. Knights by six points. 

*Statistics: Champion Data.

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