TWO fifty per cent teams on the edge of the finals zone come head to head on Sunday afternoon hell bent on improving their winning record and knowing a loss could see the pack start to make a small break from them.
The Knights have no reason not to be ultra confident after continuing the Sea Eagles’ misery last weekend, a win that pushed them into the top eight in seventh spot.
The Warriors fell to the Rabbitohs at home, a loss that has taken some of the gloss of the side that many were predicting big things from, seeing them slide down to ninth.
While both sides have four competition points the Knights hold a 14-point differential break on their opponents.
They welcome back Cory Paterson to the side, with the back-rower set to start on the bench in place of Marvin Karawana who returns to the local Newcastle league.
Scott Dureau has retained his starting halfback role, with Jarrod Mullen once again named to play from the bench – a ‘slowly, slowly’ approach after a recent broken rib.
The Warriors have picked the same side that fell to the Bunnies and as such are still without captain Steve Price, winger Manu Vatuvei and utility Lance Hohaia for another week – although there are whispers Vatuvei could return.
They are also still adjusting to the loss of centre Brent Tate for the year.
Watch out Knights: The Warriors may well target the Knights straight up the middle of the ruck knowing the Novocastrians have struggled to defend up the guts. With six tries conceded up the middle the Newcastle side is the second-worst side in the NRL at plugging the holes up the middle.
The Warriors have also had success scoring tries up the middle with six, the second most in the area. As such it makes sense the visitors will look to play straight and up-tempo, so the Knights need to compress their defence and tighten up. Should they fail to dominate the speed of play Ian Henderson will have his forwards rolling along and then Stacey Jones will be attacking a retreating defence, something he has had enormous success against over the years.
Watch out Warriors: While Vatuvei may make a return for the Warriors the Newcastle wingers have been pretty impressive over the first month of 2009 and must be watched by the Warrior defence.
James McManus averages 110 metres a game while his wing partner Akuila Uate averages 115 metres. McManus has broken the line three times, Uate twice while the numbers are reversed when it comes to tries as Uate has three, McManus two.
McManus has broken 17 tackles, Uate 21. While they have raised a few eyebrows, they are also prone to the odd error with seven apiece, so the Warriors might still target them.
Where it will be won: Ruck speed. Whichever side takes control of the speed of play will go a long way to claiming victory. Both sets of halves are reasonable, the Warriors have a wily veteran and the Knights have some young brash talent in Dureau and Mullen but they both do much better when going up against retreating defences. As such, the forwards must dominate in defence to give their playmakers the best chance to manufacture breaks and points.
Both teams have been very similar in defence, being effective more than 86 per cent of the time but the Knights have missed a handful more tackles over the first month. They make up for that with 34 more dominant tackles than the Warriors. They will need to bend the Kiwi side back to ensure they are not steamrolled.
The History: Played 22; Knights 13, Warriors 8, drawn 1. The Warriors have had the Knights’ measure in recent times, winning six of the past eight, including the past three. At EnergyAustralia Stadium the Knights hold a slender 6-4 advantage.
Conclusion: Who really knows who will win this game? The Knights are always good in the daytime at home, while the Warriors have been a bit erratic so far this year and are still without the inspirational Price.
But the Warriors have had a lot of recent success against the Knights and certainly have the arsenal to blow the Knights away if they put it all together. As such, it is another game which could easily go either way. When you look to put your tips in and you get to this game don’t be afraid to ask a complete novice their thoughts. Maybe ask your young child which colours they like best. Or ask your wife which teams have the better looking players. Or ask your boyfriend whether Brian Smith would beat Ivan Cleary in a boxing match. Then make a decision.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.