Knights v Wests Tigers
It's on for young and old at Hunter Stadium this weekend. Literally.
With the old heads of Newcastle looking to bounce back from their unquestionably horrible first half of the year and the young grasshoppers that make up the Tigers squad growing in stature every week, quite the game is brewing on Sunday afternoon.
While the argument could be made that the Tigers have to respect their elders, the young blood flowing through Mick Potter's camp at the moment as they cling onto the fringes of the top eight will ensure another testing time for Newcastle.
With the Knights failing to win all but one game this season at home and Tigers coach Potter making the sensational claim that he is expecting a "Grand Final-like atmosphere" in Newcastle this weekend, the game's stakes have been raised even higher - especially considering a win in this game will play a massive part in the context of either of these club's seasons.
With the Knights celebrating Voice for Mining Day and wearing hi-vis jerseys for the occasion, they will welcome back Akuila Uate in place of Josh Mantellato while Beau Scott will also return in place of the injured Adam Cuthbertson. Jeremy Smith will move to lock while Korbin Sims drops back to the bench. Willie Mason and David Fa'alogo also do the switcheroo between the starting team and the interchange. Darius Boyd will celebrate his 200th first-grade appearance.
The Tigers have an ace up their sleeve themselves with James Tedesco returning from injury, replacing Kurtis Rowe at fullback. Liam Fulton replaces Sitaleki Akauola in the starting back row. Captain Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods return from Origin with Joel Luani and Keith Lulia dropping out and Martin Taupau returning to the bench. Curtis Sironen is 18th man.
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Watch Out Knights: Mick Potter hasn't let young James Tedesco's decision to defect to the Raiders in 2015 hinder his team's selections this week, with the 21-year-old poised to return from a knee injury for his first start in the NRL since Round 5. Tedesco's combination with halfback Luke Brooks proved lethal earlier in the year. Tedesco will pose a threat to the Knights, with the fullback producing four tries, three line breaks, five line break assists, six try assists and 27 tackle breaks in only five games this season.
The Knights' struggles are due to their inability to score and subsequently defend points. Their completions, though, don't match those of a team coming 15th: last weekend the Knights only failed to complete five sets (27/32) in their 38-18 loss to the Warriors.
Watch Out Tigers: While several plaudits were thrown the way of Luke Brooks after the Tigers' last start 16-14 loss to the Broncos, they failed to read into his defensive game, with the boom youngster missing five tackles. While he's making all the right moves in attack, the 19-year-old has missed 57 tackles, the second most in the competition.
With names like Boyd, Gidley, Mason, Uate, Scott and Smith all named to play (all international-calibre players), there is no excuse why the Knights cannot bounce back and put the Tigers, and any side at that, to the sword. Their team on paper is simply too good for them not to string together a few wins as the season progresses.
Plays To Watch: Some would consider it a brain snap, and it probably was, but if Knights five-eighth Jarrod Mullen pulled off his cross-field chip to James McManus last weekend against the Warriors then we would be talking about the play in a positive light. While it ended up costing them points, Mullen's cross kick 15 metres out from his own try line could have been massive if he had pulled it off. Hopefully the outcome won't discourage him from having a go again this weekend.
While Luke Brooks' individual effort will be on the Tigers' highlights reel for the rest of the season, his little turning grubber for Tigers back-rower Bodene Thompson will prove all the more important in the grand scheme as a play to watch in future games. With the game on the line in the second half, the clinical kick from the Tigers No. 7 was one for his team to build on in the weeks to come.
Where It Will Be Won:
Both the Tigers and the Knights have struggled to put points on the board in their past three appearances, managing to post just 42 points apiece, a mere 14 points on average. While the Tigers were able to sneak away with a 22-20 win against the Sharks in Round 10 they, very much like the Knights, have struggled to make the most of their opportunities in recent times.
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The History: Played 18; Knights 9, Tigers 9. It's been equal pegging since these two teams started going toe-to-toe in 2000. While the Knights have had the wood over their opponents in their past two games, including Round 1 last year when the home side finished 42-10 victors, the Tigers have won four of their past six meetings.
What Are The Odds: A mountain of support for the visitors with money running nearly 10 to 1 the Tigers' way at Sportsbet.com.au! The Tigers are in from $2.00 to $1.90 with a bullet. Wests 13+ clearly the biggest hold in margin betting.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Anthony Elliot; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: This one will go down to the wire. The two clubs' struggles to cross the white stripe have been well documented and they need to break the cycle if they are to gain some momentum. The Knights have been in horrible form and despite them being at home the Tigers might just do enough to secure another hotly contested two competition points. Tigers by two points.