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Knights wait for Barba, Pritchard

This is only the third time Newcastle have played in a finals match since injury forced superstar Andrew Johns to retire early in the 2007 season.

They lost each of the first two times, so with such a thin recent finals resume it comes as no surprise they are not taking anything for granted against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

Yes, the Knights have beaten the Bulldogs on two out of two occasions in 2013. And, overall, they have won seven of the past 10 clashes, including three of the past five at this venue.

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But does that entitle the Knights to think they've got the Bulldogs covered in this knockout finals game?

"We can probably take a bit of confidence out of it, I suppose, in the way that we have played them twice and we’re a bit used to the way they play," second-rower Chris Houston told NRL.com.

"But semi-finals is such different footy, and they’re going to be tough. We’re definitely not thinking just because we’ve won two, we’re going to win again, but we’ll see what happens."

Smart footballers don't take anything for granted, especially if they are coached by someone who has been around the block as often as Wayne Bennett.

The 63-year-old may have coached Brisbane to six premierships and St George Illawarra to one, but just because he has had a lot of success doesn't mean he thinks any of it has come easy.

Houston's comments were basically an extension of what Bennett said when asked whether the two recent wins against the Bulldogs gave his side an advantage.

"It’s not going to give us another game if they beat us on Sunday," he said. "It’s immaterial. It’s what you’re doing now, and our last 11 weeks have been tremendous from our point of view.

"We’ve played a lot of good football, so that’s the best thing we’ve got going for us."

This season's meetings between the two teams were very different in the way they were fought out.

The first, in Round 10 at Hunter Stadium, saw the Knights lead 12-8 at halftime and then smash the Bulldogs 32-0 in the second half to win 44-8.

The second, in Round 17 at Mackay Stadium, was an unattractive affair in which the Knights were just a bit better than the opposition, winning 18-12.

The Bulldogs have not named forwards Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood in their squad.

Pritchard is available again after completing a two-match suspension, but is said to have a groin injury. It had been anticipated Eastwood would be back from a hand injury by now.

We'll have to wait to see if either plays, but Houston thinks they both will. Players like to prepare as if opposition players with doubts surrounding their availability are definitely playing, so that there is no risk of them underestimating the challenge.

"They’re two quality players and all sides want their quality players on the field at this time of year," Houston said. "So we’ll be preparing for them to play."

"They’re going to throw a fair bit at us, the Dogs. They’ve got big forwards and plenty of attacking players, so defence is a big priority for us on Sunday."

The Bulldogs finished sixth and the Knights seventh, with only one competition point between them, but the Bulldogs are the shortest-priced favourites in any of the four finals games this weekend.

That comes down to the fact the Bulldogs made the grand final as recently as last season.

"There will be a bit of nerves there, but I’m excited," Houston said. "I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a few years since I’ve played finals, and I’m just glad we’re still playing and still in the comp with a chance.

"We’ve got confidence here. We don’t really care if people are writing us off at the moment, we just want to go out there and play and see how we go."

It remains to be seen whether Bulldogs star Ben Barba is on the interchange bench, as named, or starts the game at fullback. Houston says he would only be guessing with that one.

"I don’t know which way they’re going to go there," he said. "I watched a bit of their game last week and Josh Morris is doing a good job for them at fullback as well.

"He’s obviously a different sort of player to Barba, but he brings the ball back well so I really don’t know."

One thing is for sure, though. However long Barba spends at fullback, the Knights will look forward to the opportunity of testing him with the high ball. He didn't look confident in the Bulldogs' final-round loss to Brisbane.

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