It's hard not to feel some sympathy for the Knights, as they are probably one of the least-equipped sides in the NRL to deal with major injuries, yet once again they have been handed them just as they looked primed to fight above their weight.
After a run of three victories the Knights fell late to the Wests Tigers last weekend as injuries to Jarrod Mullen and Ben Cross took their toll on the side’s fitness.
Now they must regroup from the pain to take on a red-hot Broncos outfit who lead the competition after suffering just one loss all year.
This is a Brisbane side who has won the past five clashes against Newcastle, and who has no problem travelling to Newcastle as they actually lead the head-to-head count at the venue.
With Cross and Mullen out of the side the task is harder for the Knights. Scott Dureau comes off the bench to play halfback, while thankfully Steve Simpson is due back allowing Chris Houston to push up to prop to replace Cross.
Adam MacDougall also returns to the side at Wes Naiqama’s expense while Keith Lulia reverts to the bench for the return of winger Akuila Uate.
Prop Tim Natusch becomes the new man on the bench.
The Broncos overpowered the struggling Eels last week to grab their third win in a row and they’ll shoot for a fourth consecutive win with the same 17 who got the job done against Parramatta.
Watch out Knights: The Broncos are leading the NRL in dominant tackles and will be out to dominate the Knights on Saturday night, particularly as they are without their enforcer Cross. Brisbane has punched out 249 dominant tackles this year, or just fewer than 36 a match.
The Knights on the other hand have only managed 127 dominant tackles (just over 18 a match) to be ranked 14th in the competition. If they allow the Broncos to dominate the ruck they are going to have a very hard time putting points on the board, especially without Mullen calling the shots.
Watch out Broncos: While the Broncos might be more dominant than other teams in the NRL when it comes to defending, they are in fact the worst team in the NRL at effective tackling overall!
The Broncos are ineffective 17.1 per cent of the time and have the most missed and the most ineffective tackles of all sides. If they continue to drop off tackles the home side may just be able to take advantage.
The Knights also dominate the Broncos in kick accuracy, finding space 66.7 per cent of the time (third in NRL) compared to the dismal 37.5 per cent the Broncos are sporting to be ranked last in the competition. Peter Wallace needs to lift his accuracy, particularly in time for Origin, if he is to take the number seven jersey for the opening game.
Where it will be won: Converting half-breaks to breaks. Both the Knights (32 line breaks) and the Broncos (35 line breaks) have been effective at breaking the line; however with 15 and 11 half-breaks respectively they have both failed to take full advantage of chances.
Should either side be able to convert half chances into full chances, they’ll take a significant advantage with them. Most of the time this means having team-mates pushing up in support of ball runners – a simple yet often overlooked aspect of play. It takes discipline to constantly be pushing up with your mates, particularly as you are unlikely to get the ball nine times out 10. But that one time can make all the difference between winning and losing.
The History: Played 32; Knights 9, Broncos 23. The Broncos have a great record against the Knights, winning seven of the past eight clashes including the past five in a row. In those last five matches the combined score has been 199-52 which averages out to roughly 40-10 in favour of the Broncos. The Brisbane boys have also beaten the Knights in 11 of 18 matches at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
Conclusion: Losing Cross and Mullen is a huge blow for the Knights, although they do welcome back plenty of experience in Simpson and MacDougall.
The Broncos are rolling along way too nicely to have any confidence in tipping against them but if any coach can find a way for an underdog side to get up it’s Knights mentor Brian Smith. It would be a massive effort for the home side to win this match but with a big crowd behind them, who knows.
If you are feeling lucky – very lucky – then feel free to back the Knights. But if you want to take the safer road, stick with the table-topping Broncos.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Grant Atkins & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.