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Brian Smith previews the clash

Knights v Sea Eagles
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Sunday 3pm

IN the early rounds of 2008 the Newcastle Knights upset the more-fancied Sea Eagles with a 13-12 victory and they’ll be hoping for a similar result in 2009.

Having won just the one game from three, the Knights know they face a tough task, despite the fact Manly is winless to this point.

Last weekend they fell to South Sydney despite leading for a long time in the match, while the Sea Eagles were once again pretty much woeful against the Panthers.

Newcastle have had the most wretched luck with injury, something the team could ill-afford, yet they still fight to the death in every encounter and will do so against the Sea Eagles.

Having already lost the likes of Steve Simpson, Jarrod Mullen and Cameron Ciraldo the Knights have now also seen Cory Paterson sidelined; their cupboard is looking barer as the weeks go by.

With Paterson out, Zeb Taia moves from lock to the back row while Matt Hilder comes off the bench to start at lock. Tim Natusch has been left out of the side, with Danny Wicks coming in, while Marvin Karawana has been added to the bench.

For the reigning premiers, only Shane Rodney has been added to the bench – however centre Jamie Lyon is in doubt with a knee complaint.

The Sea Eagles desperately need to get their campaign on track otherwise their title defence could be over before it’s really begun.

Watch out Knights: The Manly side might be struggling in most aspects of their play but they still pose a significant threat through second-phase movement. Last season the Knights were very entertaining when it came to offloads but they have started this year in their shell. With only 22 offloads so far this season the Novocastrians are running last in the category, while Manly have produced 43 offloads to rank fourth in the NRL.

Adam Cuthburtson (eight) and Anthony Watmough (eight) are the chief exponents of offloads for the Sea Eagles and will need to be monitored accordingly. Glenn Stewart is another capable of promoting the football when the play looks likely to end.

Watch out Sea Eagles: One player proving a handful in attack so far this year is back-rower Chris Houston. The former Dragons second-rower would like to add to his 89 metres a game average but his four line-breaks so far this season have been impressive.

Amazingly the big, tall, strapping forward is yet to provide an offload this year, something that has been his specialty in the past. Perhaps he has been told to keep the skill hidden by the coaching staff but if he busts it out to complement the 12 tackle breaks he’s made this year then he could be a serious handful for the Sea Eagles’ defence.

Where it will be won: Defence. Both the Newcastle Knights and Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have had poor starts to the year defensively. Last season Manly averaged just 13.6 points against them a game but so far this year they have conceded an average 24 points a game.

They have also missed more tackles (105) than any other side in the competition, something that surely has to be denting their pride.

The Knights have missed 100 tackles themselves which has them equal 13th in the NRL in the statistic – way too many to mount a real threat in games. Their average points conceded has also slipped a little, out to 22.7 points a game compared to 20.2 last year.

Both sides need to stiffen up significantly in the coming weeks and whoever can do so most effectively in this match will likely take the spoils. If it comes down to attitude, the Knights might have the edge. They at least appear to be trying to get dirty, while the Sea Eagles have failed to show any real tenacity so far this year.

The History: Played 34; Knights 14, Sea Eagles 20. The honours are fairly even in recent times with the teams splitting their past eight games. The Knights hold a slender 9-7 advantage in games played at Newcastle, with the last Manly victory at the ground coming in 2006. If you are interested in trends the sides have gone win/loss for six straight games – if that continues it is the Knights’ turn for a win.

Conclusion: Everyone is just waiting for Manly to shake themselves out of this early season funk.

Once again you’d think they would be good enough to win against the depleted Knights line-up. But if they turn up with a poor attitude once more the plucky Knights will give them a run for their money.

The Knights might be short on depth but they are full of enthusiasm and if they get a chance they’ll take it willingly.

The daytime timeslot might help Manly here. Matt Orford should be able to weave some attacking brilliance for his outside men and as such they might have too many points in them for the Knights to contend with. But Brian Smith is very good at exploiting teams that are vulnerable so if you fancy a risk, take the Knights.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & David Abood; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

Brian Smith previews the clash

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