Akuila Uate leads Will Chambers in the race for the Steeden. Credit: Brett Crockford. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Knights v Storm
Shambolic is one of many words that could be used to describe the rocks-and-diamonds Newcastle Knights last weekend.
Against an injury-depleted Rabbitohs team missing influential figureheads John Sutton and Sam Burgess and coming off a spirited win over the Roosters the weekend before – the Knights fell to a 40-point flogging. Considering they still have four more home games left including this one against the Melbourne Storm, they have no choice but to impress.
Unfortunately for the Knights, their fixtures don't get any easier. With the Storm looking to perhaps sneak their way into the top four before the regular season is out, Bellamy's men will be primed for a big one though you would be daft to underestimate any team coached by Wayne Bennett, coming off a belting no less.
While the Victorians have struggled at different points of the season they have managed to stay in touch with the top eight and it is finally starting to pay dividends as they currently sit in sixth place on the competition ladder with only percentages keeping them from overtaking the Bulldogs.
In team changes, Sione Mata'utia and Jake Mamo will play Holden Cup this weekend, with Akuila Uate returning from NSW Cup duty and injury while Jarrod Mullen (stomach muscle tear) also returns in at five-eighth in a move that sees Kurt Gidley return to his favoured fullback position. Kade Snowden also returns with Joey Tapine dropping back to NYC and David Fa'alogo shifting to the interchange. Chris Houston has been named as 18th man. If he is to play, Houston will play in his 150th NRL game.
The Storm has named the same team that took down the Tigers 28-6 on Monday with Dayne Weston and Kurt Mann on the extended bench for injury cover.
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Watch Out Knights: It is a testament to how good one Cooper Cronk is going at the moment for the Storm when you realise he made only six metres in attack during his man of the match performance against the Tigers on Monday. Within these six metres Cronk was able to set up four of his team's five tries and assist in a further two line breaks. On top of that, Cronk kicked the ball 368 metres downfield throughout the game. It looks like the broken arm suffered in Origin I might be a blessing in disguise for the refreshed Cronk.
The Storm have escaped Melbourne for their annual camp this week in Terrigal. With Craig Bellamy usually taking his troops away for a week-long camp essentially for a change of scenery and a bit of a freshen up for the back end of the season it has coincided with their match against the Knights for the second year running. Melbourne's trip to Nelson Bay in 2013 worked wonders for them as they snuck away with a 23-10 win over the Knights in Round 23 last season. Bellamy is clearly hoping that lightning strikes twice this weekend.
Watch Out Storm: If the Knights have shown one thing this season it has been that they can pull a rabbit out of the hat when you least expect it. While they didn't perform such magic tricks against South Sydney last weekend, the Roosters are still wondering where they went wrong in Round 20. Considering this is Newcastle's first meeting with the Storm since the injury sustained by Alex McKinnon, don't be surprised to see the Novocastrians rise again with their injured mate in mind.
With young Sione Mata'utia and Mamo dropping back to the ladder-leading Holden Cup team this weekend it has given captain Kurt Gidley the opportunity to slot back into his preferred position of fullback. Gidley has made the most of his career at fullback having been picked for representative duties predominantly for his work in the position earlier in his career. Coach Wayne Bennett made the call to move Gidley away from his allocated role at hooker earlier in the season because of his sole performance thus far this season at fullback after he made 111 metres, two tackle breaks and a try save against the Roosters in Round 14.
Plays To Watch: While the Knights were well and truly ambushed by the Rabbitohs last weekend, they showed that their backline movement is still good enough to string some passes together and score a solid try. If they are to play to their strengths this weekend they will need to utilise backline movements such as the one that allows Kurt Gidley to put centre Joey Leilua and the winger out wide into space.
The Storm showed once again on Monday night against the Tigers that when their edge plays off Cronk they are a force to be reckoned with. Usually the halfback will have Kevin Proctor or Ryan Hoffman running off him but on Monday it was Will Chambers who reaped the benefits. With Slater running beneath the movement, Cronk threw a no-look pass to the Storm centre for him to race 40 metres and shoot back into the middle of the paddock to further Melbourne’s lead.
Where It Will Be Won: The Storm showed on Monday night against the Tigers that they will make you pay if you keep gifting them with errors and field possession. With the class they have across the park all Melbourne need to do on Saturday is stick to their own game as well as avoid complacency. Newcastle can learn many lessons from the Tigers last Monday. After being outplayed by the Rabbitohs in Round 21, Newcastle should now realise that to have any chance of winning this weekend they will need to be committed for the full 80 and avoid lapses of concentration.
Even then, the Knights will need to wake up and play with a bit of passion – something that was missing throughout the majority of the squad up in Cairns last weekend.
The History: Played 32; Knights 13, Storm 19. The Knights have typically struggled against the Storm for quite a number of years. While Newcastle’s 18-16 semi-final win over the Storm in Melbourne last season is the exception, the Knights have lost seven of their eight past meetings since 2010 including a 28-20 loss in Round 3 this season.
What Are The Odds:
More than 90 per cent of the money held by Sportsbet.com.au is with the Storm ($1.26) in this one, with the Knights friendless at $3.80. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Chris Butler; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Phil Henderson; Video Referees – Matt Cecchin & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 5:30pm.
The Way We See It: Everything is against the Knights at the moment. History dictates they'll lose, as does their current form. Melbourne, in their minds, have booked a one way ticket to their finals regardless of what the competition thinks so they'll be chasing another win on their way to September. Storm by eight points.