Brian Smith sticking with a winning formulaWests Tigers v Knights
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
This clash could well turn out to be the most entertaining game of the weekend as two sides with experienced coaches and quality attack fight it out in the Sunday afternoon sun (well, Sydneysiders can hope for good weather).
Newcastle have quietly gone about their business in recent weeks, managing to stay somewhat under the radar despite winning three straight games against quality opposition and moving swiftly up to fifth on the NRL ladder.
The Wests Tigers gave their fans reason for optimism with a rugged 16-6 win over Melbourne on Monday night, a result that sees them move to ninth in the standings and shows they are capable of performing against the tough sides if they muscle up and have a real go.
But there are question marks hanging over both sides. Can the Wests Tigers manage to back up from the bruising Monday night game against a defensively sound Knights outfit? Can the Knights win four games in a row for the first time since mid-2006 and for the first time under coach Brian Smith?
They will try to do so with a similar side to the one that disposed of the Dragons at Kogarah last weekend, with the only change being winger Akuila Uate returning from injury at Keith Lulia’s expense.
Lulia has remained on an extended bench along with Scott Dureau and Wes Naiqama.
The Wests Tigers have also remained faithful to the team who got things done last start with the only addition being Daine Laurie as an 18th man.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Knights hooker Isaac De Gois is really starting to find his feet in the Newcastle line-up and is fast becoming one of coach Smith’s favourites.
Against St George Illawarra De Gois had 91 touches, seven runs, 43 tackles, three offloads, a line break and a try. As his combination with Jarrod Mullen blossoms the Knights could become more and more dangerous and potentially be a dark horse for this competition.
The Tigers have a handy no.9 of their own in Robbie Farah, a man who is under pressure to gain a New South Wales jersey most thought would be his once Danny Buderus left the NRL. Farah is being pushed to the limit by Bulldog Michael Ennis and needs to lift his game to get back into the selectors’ minds.
Watch out Knights: The Wests Tigers’ attack certainly has some predictability about it – but that doesn’t make it easy to stop. The Tigers have scored 12 tries on the left side of the field, 11 of which have come from Chris Lawrence and Taniela Tuiaki. This compares to just two tries on the right side, making it very obvious where the joint venture side will target.
Thankfully for the Knights their defence on this side of the field is stronger than the Tigers’ weak side. Lawrence will need to be watched closely, as he made 134 metres and 24 tackles against the Storm, scoring two tries to be in good form. It was the sixth time in his career he’s grabbed multiple tries. Of his 54 career tries, Lawrence has raced 30 metres or more on 11 occasions.
Where it will be won: Defence, particularly after penalties. The Knights have quietly become one of the better defensive teams in the NRL. While they are still ranked ninth in points conceded they have been tough when put under intense pressure and have punished others in attack when given a leg-up by the referees.
The Knights have scored 10 of their 30 tries after receiving a penalty, the highest percentage of any side in the competition, which means the Wests Tigers must be disciplined or expect the Knights to carve them up from structured sets.
The fact the Tigers have let in plenty of tries after penalties, 22 per cent to be exact, which doesn’t help their situation. In terms of points conceded the Tigers are still ranked worst in the NRL although they’ll take confidence out of Monday’s game where they limited Melbourne to just six points.
Both sides are going to attack hard, having averaged 21.67 (Knights) and 22.67 (Tigers) a game, which could leave us with a feast of attacking football. It should be a game easy on the eye, with plenty of entertainment.
The History: Played 13; Wests Tigers 6, Knights 7. These two sides have traded victories over the past nine occasions, spanning eight seasons. If the win-loss trend continues it is time for a Knights victory as the Wests Tigers prevailed 38-26 last year. At Campbelltown Stadium the Tigers have a 3-2 advantage over the Knights.
Conclusion: The Knights have the form heading in but it’s still a dead-set toss-of-the-coin job. The Knights’ side are still very inexperienced across the board, making the likelihood of being up for four consecutive weeks unlikely, but the Wests Tigers have been known to fall apart this season on occasions.
With this in mind maybe the best bet is to lean towards the home side… but it’s not wise to spend your entire pay cheque. After all, a trend spanning eight seasons is pretty impressive and it points towards a Newcastle win.
Maybe the better outlay is to back the ‘overs’ option and both sides might rack up some points.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Mohamad Fajajo & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.